Outdoor Action Kangaroo Island rides on through the flames and COVID-19

Brenton Davis is no stranger to disaster as the 2007 bushfire came within 20 metres of quad bikes on Jetty Road at Vivonne Bay.

And that was only six days after he purchased the business.

He has since built up his business Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action offering quad biking and kayaking at Vivonne Bay, as well as fat biking and sandboarding at nearby Little Sahara.

But this latest fire was unlike he had ever seen before attacking his property and business from all sides over multiple days.

Fortunately Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action came through largely unscathed but the effort was exhausting.

Then came the COVID-19 coronavirus shut down of tourism and the business, which had just reopened after the fire.

Trail ride back to shed

The day of the big fire on January 3, Brenton had been at the fire on the north coast at Middle River and then Borda Road before arriving at his brother Ben's property at Church Road to the west, along with their father and honey producer Peter Davis.

They sheltered inside Ben's house as the firestorm blew over at about 6pm, leaving before it burned down and forming a convoy with neighbours to head east to Vivonne Bay.

They drove through the edge of the fire at the Stun'Sail-boom River making it to safety.

The next few days were spent assisting his brother and others with clean-up duties, including burying hundreds of sheep with his JCB loader.

Stage two of his fire odyssey began with another dire forecast for January 9 and so the focus switched to cleaning up around his own property with friends and employees all helping.

Then his loader broke down that afternoon but fortunately his mechanic made an emergency dash over from the mainland to repair the machine before the fire struck the next day.

That Thursday during the day the wind shifted to northwest, blowing a fire down the eastern side of Vivonne Bay all the way to the beach.

By late afternoon the wind started howling westerly, pushing more fire the from the Stuns'Sail-boom area east along the coast towards the township.

By then everyone at Outdoor Action decided to leave for the safety of Kingscote.

That night the fire blew in from the west, destroying three of shacks at Point Ellen, crossing the Harriet River and destroying the lodge.

Just before dawn on Friday, Brenton ventured back the long way round through Stokes Bay to find his business still standing surrounded by burned ground.

The holiday house he saved is just visible on the horizon.

The holiday house he saved is just visible on the horizon.

A large holiday house just to the west had latticework on the car port burning and they were able to put that and save the house.

The township itself, where he has his own house, and also the shacks along the river did not burn.

"I never expected to have a house left at Vivonne Bay either, it's unbelievable," he said.

Employee and mechanic Sam Florance meanwhile had been fighting the fire at his parents' place on Bark Hut Road, after the fire arrived there on the Thursday evening.

After the fires there was a big push to encourage tourism to the Island with the #BookThemOut campaign.

Brenton and Sam were kept busy reopening their four-wheeler trails and making them safe.

The upside is the wildlife that did survive is more visible, including more koalas than ever.

Before these latest fires, he built a viewing platform out of scaffolding, which remarkably survived with only one rubber wheel scorched.

Unexplained burn marks through the scrub where the fire somehow left unburned tree tops in wavy lines.

Unexplained burn marks through the scrub where the fire somehow left unburned tree tops in wavy lines.

Climbing to the top, you can see unexplained lines through the scrub where the fire somehow left unburned tree tops in wavy lines.

During the recovery phase, KI Outdoor Action donated a sandboarding voucher to every kid on KI and business had picked up before everything shut down with COVID-19.

The business was closed but some employees were kept working thanks to JobKeeper, with Sam doing maintenance and overhauling all 30 of the bikes.

It will be a long road to recovery with around 50 per cent of customers typically being from overseas, so Brenton, Sam and the other employees will be relying on domestic travellers.

There had been groups coming over mainly from Adelaide since the relaxing of restrictions with SeaLink promoting the activities.

"May through August is always slow for us anyway, so we're hoping for a good summer," Brenton said.

Sam meanwhile has been an active motocross competitor over recent years but his various pet events including the SA Reliability Trial and Hattah Desert Race have been cancelled or postponed.

With local football cancelled a few of his mates have been getting into motocross instead and they have been enjoying rides around the Island.

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Ever the optimist, Brenton said there are still plenty of opportunities on the Island after the fire and he had his JCB loader out clearing fence lines and doing other bushfire recovery work on local farms.

"Everyone around SA knows what happened here on KI and so hopefully we see them over here enjoying the sights and visiting us, Island Beehive and all the other businesses," he said. "Come out, get some fresh air and some action on Kangaroo Island."


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