What follows is my experience of the Saturday Feb 7th in Marysville. It is how I wrote it down in the days following the disaster uncensored.
My car at the time was a Mercedes Benz S430 - Reg No RG079 - to which my wife (Vicki Moritz) and myself owe our lives. It was written off later (although still drivable at the time), and I now have an S350 (same rego no).
May I say that my dealer, Barloworld in Moorabbin, were very kind and caring to me after the fires. I have had a number of S-Class cars and know the service people there. They checked out the vehicle to make sure it was safe to drive, and also cleaned it thoroughly - very much appreciated. They were very patient and understanding of me (I was a bit of a mess at the time)
Anyway - here is my experience.
My Mighty S430 Mercedes Sedan
We should not have been there that day - in Marysville - at our house in Lady Talbot Drive. We had not intended to be - our fire plan was to 'go', not stay. We love animals - we breed Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs - we had two - 'RED' (our beautiful stud dog imported from England) and a bitch 'BLUE' and our cat 'MR. ZEUSS' - Abyssinian - all magnificent creatures and a part of our family.
It was a last minute decision Friday - may as well sit in Marysville (our second home) on the hot Saturday February 7th. with the airconditioner on as stay in Melbourne. So we went Friday evening - had a lovely meal at the Black Spur Hotel and got home to Marysville about 9-30 PM.
Saturday - after lunch
Vicki said "look at this' - I was watching the golf on TV - went outside - smoke high in the sky to our North West - turned on radio (774 ABC) - Murrindindi Mill fire - long way away (we had walked in there a few weeks ago) - fire going South - no problems for us. Radio reported a little later fire at Devlins Bridge - checked it on map - going South - still no probs - but (in hindsight) my dog Red kept nudging me - he was uneasy.
Saturday 4:15 pm
Heard CFA siren - calling CFA crews to their station?
Saturday 5:15 pm
Power went off - Batteries for radio flat so drove down to the store - store closed - not a soul around - not unusual for Marysville Saturday evening about this time - drove back to house - next door neighbour Harley Morgan (ex- CFA bloke) came over again - we had talked that afternoon - he had mentioned in passing that we should probably both turn our gas cylinders off - neither of us did (bad mistake in hindsight). He suggested we should leave straight away - we started to pack quickly, intending to go - Harley came back - I could tell he was agitated/uneasy - told us too late to leave as fire spotting at Granton - Harley told us (as do CFA pamphlets/advice) to get in house, close all windows and blinds, put dogs and cat in separate rooms, wet blankets, fill bath with water, have buckets of water all around, etc etc - we did all the "right" things. Harley told me his wife Errol would not leave her home and that he would stay with her no matter what. We shook hands and wished each other well and he returned to his house - it was the last time I saw my great friend and neighbour.
Errol rang me a few minutes later on mobile phone - I can't remember what she said - she was standing at her back door and I waved to her and said "good luck darl" - it was the last time I saw Errol.
Saturday 7:04 PM
I first saw flame from the fire at 7-04 PM - on the ridge about 1 kilometre away (?). I took a photo from the front deck - 2 minutes later, at 7-06, everything outside on fire - took another photo through my kitchen window - Harley's one tonner and his house ablaze - everything black, loud, tremendous noise - couldn't see much - hard to breathe - red hot embers falling on us inside the house - putting fires out on the carpet in the living room - I was in the kitchen (luckily) when tremendous "whooshing" noise from the gas range just to my left - the top of the range was blown off by gas venting with great force into the kitchen - I pulled the drawers out from below the gas cooking range straight away and turned the gas cock off - the venting of gas into the room stopped (how come it didn't ignite ?) - immediately the central heating return duct in the passage blew in and I saw the whole underneath of the house was on fire - the ducting was all aflame.
I think I was yelling out what was happening - Vicki (I learned later) moved from where she was near the window over towards the front door(luckily) as a moment later there was a tremendous explosion and the windows of the kitchen and dining room were blown in and flames and black, thick, heavy unbreathable smoke was everywhere (I think now that as a result of my turning the gas off inside the house, it backed up, blew the regulator off and finally the 190 kg gas cylinder vented - a cloud of gas formed and ignited, which blew the side of the house in)
I yelled to my wife Vicki "GET OUT! NOW! GET OUT!!"
I got to one dog - Blue - but she slipped her collar and vanished into flames.
I ran after Vick and we ran along the front verandah - my mind was racing at a million miles an hour - I didn't expect our car to still be intact (after seeing both of Harley's cars burn) BUT IT WAS - it was parked under the carport and was still intact - We jumped off the verandah steps and I yelled to Vicki to get into the car (car was open with keys in ignition - I had done this that afternoon despite normally having car locked and keys in kitchen on hook - saved our lives, as there was nowhere else to go)
The car started first pop - I reversed hard, knocking our dog trailer out of the way and 'parked' the car with the (still standing) shed acting as a heat barrier between the car and the now ferociously burning house - leaving Vicki in the car, I got out and went back to the other (back) side of the house - it was very hot - flames and smoke everywhere - forced myself to push along the verandah to get to the door of the laundry where RED (our dog ) was but I couldn't get to the door - too hot, too much flame - very thick, black, heavy smoke - couldn't breathe - went down to the deck after inhaling smoke - crawled back along the verandah which was now flames everywhere - returned to the car - just got back - Vicki pleased to see me return - Put aircon on 'recirc' - full blast - said to Vick "this might be it darl - this is where we might die - nowhere else to go"
We didn't say much - just held hands and 'felt' each other through our clasped hands - front windscreen was so hot I could not touch it - Vick said "what if windscreen blows in" - I said "if that happens , we're gone!" Vicki crawled over to the back seat - 10 minutes later she said "how come I'm in the back seat". - I said "I don't f**king know" - She came back to the front seat.
Whilst sitting in the car, at the start, my mobile phone rang - it was my brother Mike ringing from Perth - he said "G'day Russ, how are you going?" I said "Mike, we're at Marysville, in the car, watching the house burn with the dogs and cat in it and also watching Harley's house burn with him and Errol inside and I don't know if we are going to make it" - then the phone dropped out - tower burned and all phone reception out. - I thought of poor Mike all night long.
My mighty S430 Mercedes sedan kept going through it all - damage to rear and front headlight melted but it held together and we owe our lives to this car and the shed (which protected us from a lot of heat) - that shed still stands!
We are both very affected by this experience - I don't have the ability to write down how I felt watching our pets and companions - our ridgebacks Red and Blue and our Abyssinian cat Mr Zeuss be incinerated in our home. Also our friends and neighbours Harley and Errol Morgan - We had to watch their home burn knowing they were inside!
Later that night - got out of the car when the fires all around died down a little - opened the shed and pulled out two chairs, sat down and watched everything burn - I yelled and "coo-eed" - hoping someone alive might hear - no replies - later we decided to walk down to the oval - maybe people there? - picked our way down through the fires everywhere although now not so intense - about 2-3 kilometres? and met other survivors. We sat in the middle of the oval for the rest of the night and watched everything burn - bottles of water supplied by CFA and DSE people - rug to lay on supplied by CFA (last one left) - Police Officer (Ian Thompson) gave my wife the use of his jacket for the night - much appreciated - Ian was great - the Police force should be very proud of him.
During the night, Ian was able to patch through a call to my brother in Melbourne and inform him that we were still alive (all phones were down - there was no mobile reception at all)
Early the next morning, we all heard a helicopter approaching before we saw it appear out of the smoke - it landed on the oval not far from us to comments like "here comes the bloody media". It was the ABC Channel 2 copter - the young woman interviewer and the male pilot approached our group - she asked to speak to some of us, which she did in (I thought) a respectful and "low key" way. The pilot came up to us with a large mobile phone in his hand and said "we know all communications are out - this is a SAT PHONE - you can all use it to ring whoever you like - line up and take turns". It was a very emotional moment - I think a lot of us wanted to hug that guy as we waited our turn to ring out - Thank you ABC!
Mid-morning we were informed that we were to be evacuated to Alexandra. I was aware that during the night, some of the CFA guys had cleared a way up to Harley's house to see if he was still alive (after asking us if Harley and Errol had made it), so Ian drove Vicki and I up to our property as I was confident my car was OK to drive. Sure enough, the car and the shed were still there, so I got my chainsaw out of the shed, cleared a way out of my property, drove the car out and joined the convoy to Alexandra, where I was told by the ambulance guys that they were going to put me in hospital - I talked them into letting me go home to Melbourne on the condition I go to hospital when I got there - ended up in Epworth Richmond early hours of Monday morning - they were great - ECG and X-rays - smoke in lungs but OK. - Vicki and I alive but emotionally devastated from our experience and at the loss of our great friends and neighbours Harley and Errol and our animals Red, Blue and Mr Zeuss.