Reliving the day the fire marched down Bark Hut Road on Kangaroo Island

Bill Roper with his dog Stephanie and his surviving sheds at the back of his Bark Hut Road property.
Bill Roper with his dog Stephanie and his surviving sheds at the back of his Bark Hut Road property.

Bill Roper like many Kangaroo Island residents is still trying to get his head around the summer's bushfires.

He lost his house, a shed, 8 kilometres fencing and pine plantation on Bark Hut Road on January 9, the second push of the Ravine fire.

Fortunately the cottage, some sheds and all of his 100 or so sheep survived the fire, so he and his wife Tina and daughter Anne had somewhere to live.

Since then he has been able to use insurance money purchase another farmhouse and small block just on the other side of the road, while they work on rebuilding the main property.

He does plan to bulldoze his 100 acres of destroyed pine plantations, turning it back into pasture.

Bill Roper's property sits on the banks of the Cygnet River at the Bark Hut Road bridge where the fire ripped through in January killing the maginificent old gums.

Bill Roper's property sits on the banks of the Cygnet River at the Bark Hut Road bridge where the fire ripped through in January killing the maginificent old gums.

A lamb's tail - yum!

A lamb's tail - yum!

What struck Bill, who grew up on the Island and has seen many fires, was the speed at which it moved, even on July 9.

He spent the day helping groundsman Daniel Dunstan at Parndana school preparing for the approaching fire, laying out hoses.

He eventually left Parndana in the late afternoon after the fire impacted the township and spreading westward cutting off the Playford Highway.

He joined a convoy leaving Parndana driving up to north coast before he cut back down to his place.

"I was looking forward to having a shower and had now idea it would already be there," he said. "The closer I got to home, the smokier it got."

He and the fire arrived at his place almost at the same time and in the dusk light he could see it approaching over the ridge.

"I saw the fire on the ridge on the other side of the river. It was 8pm or something like that. I fed the horses but didn't have time to do anything else," he said.

"It started burning across the top of the plantations, so I drove out, shut the gate and headed to Kingscote."

He stopped at the Incident Management Team to let the CFS know the fire was impacting on his property and said there was a level of confusion with the exact course the fire unknown.

"Just about the only people who know where the fire was were the farm fighting units," he said. "The fire had gone all the way from Parndana to Ropers Road in one afternoon and the CFS didn't even know where it was."

His own view was that by January 9, the local and visiting CFS volunteers, units and management had been stretched thin and were exhausted after weeks after fighting fires since the Duncan and Menzies fire broke out on December 20.

"There was some breakdown because the local knowledge wasn't there in the IMT," he said.

Since the fires, he has been most grateful for all the help included work by BlazeAid and other backpackers.

Kangaroo Island farmer Bill Roper and daughter Anne Shu Roper with French HelpX farm worker Mathilde Wiss at the Races at the Cygnet event in January.

Kangaroo Island farmer Bill Roper and daughter Anne Shu Roper with French HelpX farm worker Mathilde Wiss at the Races at the Cygnet event in January.

Among those helping was young French backpacker Mathilde Wiss, who was there in December through the fires and only just left KI to travel up to Northern Territory after eight months at the Ropers.

Ms Wiss signed up to work on a KI farm before the bushfires through the HelpX online platform.

The 19-year-old, horse-loving international had experienced and helped the Roper family through the trauma of losing their Bark Hut Road property in the bushfires.

"Her help over the period enabled Tina to continue to work her job in childcare in Kingscote and know that someone was out here with me and Anne," Mr Roper said.

Bill Roper is now working on organising the Parndana Show that the committee hopes can go ahead and be an Island-wide celebration in November.

Comments