Never before had I considered proximity to an airport and a hospital to be important when caravanning. In February 2014 we were enjoying a caravan club weekend muster at the Park Lane Top Tourist caravan park in Traralgon, Vic. On the Friday a fire started in Yallourn North and we were entertained by the fire fighting helicopters and fixed wing aircraft buzzing overhead. On the Saturday we were hunkering down to a serious heat wave and by mid morning on Sunday the heat was extreme and a strong wind was rocking the caravans. There were fires at nearby Bruthen and Yarram as well as Yallourn North which was still blazing out of control. By mid afternoon the cool change had arrived. The wind was then difficult to stand against but at least it was cooler. From the caravan park the Yallourn fire was quite obvious to the north west of us and the air was thick with smoke. The park fire hoses were readied for use. Fires had broken out all over the state so all we could do was wait and watch. The highway out front was closed and hundreds of cars banked up in both directions. People were being evacuated from Morwell and motor homes and trailers started streaming in to the safety of the park. At happy hour the park management addressed all guests and the recreation room filled to the brim. The staff members were very professional and assured us of our safety, how to take the back lane to the nearby hospital if necessary and how we would be alerted if the situation were to escalate. There was a possibility that power would be lost as the fire was now threatening the Hazelwood power station. Some of our members offered the use of their generators for any guests that were carrying medical equipment. We chatted to a couple from Denmark who had been driving down from Sydney and were actually trying to get to Phillip Island. Morwell was threatened from the north, south and east.
Our events lady got a couple of card games going but we all kept jumping up to look at the fires every time the pack was shuffled. Two fires eventually joined having crossed the Princes Highway. Another started burning at Yarram to the south. The sun set in an enormous red orb behind the pall of smoke, then the fire glowed crimson in the western sky. We drifted off to bed coughing our goodnights and hoping like hell we wouldn’t be awakened by the evacuation alarm.
Monday dawned and the highway and the Yarram road were both still closed to through traffic. The smoke had cleared. One of our group had to have a hospital procedure near home so they took a back road through the hills and made it home in time. A few others also left via the back roads.
The choppers and planes constantly buzzed overhead, it was like being at an air show. Looking for something to do we walked to the airport to watch the action but there were only two fuel tankers waiting for the aircraft to return yet again. By late afternoon the highway reopened, an afternoon chat became happy hour and something akin to plane spotting as necks craned skywards. At least the temperature was conducive to sitting in the open air.
Tuesday morning we all hit the road and headed for non smoky free camps on the coast glad to be away from the mayhem. That was too close for comfort and a muster we’ll never forget.