Day Five Sunday 9th Feb 2014 Traralgon, Vic
Last night became mild enough for sleep although the fire choppers woke some of us when they started up again at 3:00am. It’s hot, damned hot. The camp management cook us a fabulous breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, and maple syrup. By mid-morning though the heat is extreme and a strong wind is rocking the caravans. There are now fires at Bruthen and Yarram as well as Yallourn North which is still blazing out of control. We secure our awnings and stow any surplus gear before pooling cars and heading into Traralgon to seek some respite at The Grand Junction Hotel.
After a good lunch, we leave the hotel to find that the cool change has arrived. The strong wind is now difficult to stand against but it is cooler. From the caravan park, the Yallourn fire is now quite obvious to the northwest of us and the air is thick with smoke. The park fire hoses are laid out along the roadways and readied for use. There are fires all over the state now so all we can do is wait and watch. The Princes Highway (Highway 1) out front has been closed and hundreds of cars are now banked up in both directions. People are being evacuated from Morwell and motor homes and trailers are coming into the safety of the park. At happy hour, the park management address all guests, and the rec room is filled to the brim with holidaymakers and evacuees. The staff members are very professional and assure us of our safety, how to take the back lane to the nearby hospital if necessary and how we will be alerted if the situation escalates. There is a possibility that power will be lost as the fire is now threatening the Hazelwood power station. Some of our members offer the use of their generators for any guests who need power for CPAP machines etc. We chat with a couple from Denmark who are been driving down from Sydney and are heading to Phillip Island (they’re getting some firsthand experience of Australian life). Morwell (the next town west of us) is now threatened from the north, south, and east.
M (our entertainment girl) gets a couple of card games going but we all keep jumping up to look at the fires every time the pack is shuffled. Two fires have now joined having crossed the Princes Highway. Another is burning at Yarram to the south, where we were yesterday. The sun sets in an enormous red orb behind the pall of smoke, then the fire glows crimson in the western sky. We drift off to bed coughing our goodnights and hoping like hell we won’t be awakened by the evacuation alarm.
2022 Note: What may seem scary excitement to us, although we couldn’t leave we were protected by a major hospital on one side and the airport behind, was a disaster for the people of the Latrobe Valley. The fire got into the Hazelwood open-cut coal mine and burnt for a total of 45 days. Heaven knows what long-term damage the smoke did to the health of the residents of the area.