Kangaroo Island goes round three in its bushfire battle - we are down, not out

3am, Friday, Jan. 10 - end of Kingscote jetty looking toward Cygnet River. Photo Stan Gorton
3am, Friday, Jan. 10 - end of Kingscote jetty looking toward Cygnet River. Photo Stan Gorton

Kangaroo Island has gone round three in its current bushfire battle, sustaining more damage and trauma.

We may be down, but our farmers, wildlife and tourism operators are definitely not out.

We lost more farms, stock, wildlife and habitat, as well as tourism infrastructure. The tally is still being counted.

After three weeks of constant battle, this latest fire challenge was the fire that almost came to town.

Kingscote was on edge and Parndana residents advised to leave for a second time in two weeks.

The townsfolk of Kingscote, including the displaced from the fireground, were traumatised when fine ash began falling shortly before midnight on Thursday, followed by an ominous glow to the west.

People were advised to stay calm and remain in the Bushfire Safer Place that was the town centre. Hundreds chose to wait it out down at the town jetty, while others sheltered at the football oval.

Yet others earlier in the day fell back to Penneshaw on the eastern end of the Island.

Kangaroo Island has escaped the bushfire aftermath mayhem being experienced by my family and friends on the South Coast of NSW, with their battle continuing even today.

That's because of our inbuilt self-sufficiency and low population, which I like to think we should keep low as possible, because that's what makes it such a nice place to live and so special for our visitors.

Thursday's bushfire trauma on KI was only the latest in an epic three-week fire battle, which now seems like a war.

The Duncan fire started on December 20 seems like a distant memory, despite the fact it claimed at least four homes and its victims are still dealing with their loss.

Some of the people in that blaze, including at Stokes Bay and Snug Cove, continued to battle the blaze even yesterday as the Duncan and Ravine fires merged.

I was struck by the fact that current incident controller Ian Tanner spoke about the weariness among all the troops.

This includes paid, volunteer firefighters and the legendary farm fire fighting units, armed with nothing more than a water tank and pump on the back of utility vehicles.

All the visiting firefighters should know, we will forever be grateful they put their lives as risk for us in extremely challenging conditions.

Speaking personally, the media team has been excellent, trusting me with information and the important timing and nuances of crisis information and warnings.

Ian Tanner was the same incident controller who stood before the community meeting at Parndana on January 2, warning of the worst which sadly came to eventuate.

He was also on KI during the last major bushfire in 2007 that claimed one life and burned much of the south coast.

The latest lightning-sparked blaze this week was less ferocious than the epic firestorm that burned out much of the western end on Friday, January 3.

The fire at that stage claiming two lives, 56 homes and potentially 100,000 stock, an estimated 25,000 koalas and countless other wildlife.

This was because the weather was less extreme this time around, but also because the fire did not have the fuel loads, including the timber plantations now destroyed.

After rolling across more farmland and bush, now even more precious, this latest fire arrived at the doorstep of the Island's biggest town, Kingscote at around midnight, on Thursday January 10.

The fire burned to within kilometres of the Island's airport at Cygnet River before taking off to the northeast through farmland.

New areas damaged on Thursday, Jan 9 shown in the hatched area to the east of the blue line of the previous fireground.

New areas damaged on Thursday, Jan 9 shown in the hatched area to the east of the blue line of the previous fireground.

Ferocity is relative and the farmers that battled yesterday to save their property, such as Alicia and Matt Cooper at Parndana, still faced down the fire beast.

While they feared the worst to begin with, excellent preparation and determination saved most of their stock and houses.

"In what can only be described as a completely inhuman effort, Alicia has saved 3500 animals on the quad bike, so we may have some drafting to do over the weekend, but all the ewes and lambs are accounted for," Matt posted.

Others were not as lucky and farmers on Friday were asking for help to euthanase and bury stock.

As far we can tell from reports filtering in, we lost SeaLink's Vivonne Bay Lodge last night but the Raptor Domain wildlife park remains standing, despite being encircled by flame at times.

The township and and it general store, home of the legendary whiting burger, also remain standing.

Parndana meanwhile over the day was encircled by fire with locals taking refuge on the oval, but the town stands to live another day.

The world has been holding it breath about the fate of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, now the animal hospital for the Island's injured wildlife.

We ran into park keeper Billy Dunlop at the Kingscote oval this morning and he told another remarkable tale of survival from KI's fire.

Park owner Sam Mitchell ably assisted by a team of four others including Billy battled the initial fire front that came in from the west in the afternoon.

And then when the southerly hit in the night, they were fortunate that the fire skirted the park, leaving it untouched.

Kangaroo Island like the rest the Australia remains tinder dry and when hot conditions return, we are likely to see more fire.

Indeed as we write this Kingscote has received 4mm of rain, enough to quell fears but not enough to put out the fire that continues to smoulder.

Checking in at a few spots around town today, I realised we are all going to need be counsellors for each for a little while.

Have the patience to listen to your fellow Islander's conversation, as talking heals.

I myself had discussions with people about mental health, our young people, fire ecology, climate and plantation timber.

The topics are endless as the fire's impact is total.

Thanks Yen and crew at the Cactus Cafe for sporting me my big breakfast this morning and I have been humbled by everyone's praise for my coverage during the fire.

But like everyone else on KI, I was just doing my little bit.

This was written on about two hours sleep before I go and live stream today's community meeting at the Kingscote Town Hall.

We all have a lot of work to do to rebuild this Island. But our farms will be re-fenced, houses rebuilt, tourism attractions resurrected.

Restocking will happen, the wildlife and bush will recover in some form and the tourists will return.

We've focussed on words for this update report, and I'm just glad not be posting fire maps and warnings for once.

But we will have ongoing coverage of this bushfire crises and the recovery process that has already begun.

If you want to help, then please donate to one of the relief funds, two are listed below. We also included links to some of our previous coverage.

Thanks for your support with millions raised already from small individual donations around the world.

And if you really want to help into the future, come and see us soon. We will be here waiting with open arms. - Stan Gorton

How to donate on GoFundMe:

Some of our previous coverage:

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