Mike Brown was lucky his house didn’t burn down in the 2016 Waroona-Yarloop fires. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.Related content:
COMMUNITY: “There was nothing I could do”COMMUNITY: “We need to thank Australia”COMMUNITY: “It was too late”COMMUNITY: “My daughter and granddaughter lost everything”“I’d never seen anything like it in all my years and I hope I never have to again,” Yarloop resident Mike Brown said.
“There was just utter devastation in the whole town.”
Mr Brown has been living in his house on Yarloop’s Railway Parade for more than ten years.
He was living in the city when he fell in love with Yarloop’s heritage, privileged locationand its small charming community, and decided to leave everything behind and buy a property in town.
“I used to come down here every weekend, that’s why I moved down here, I loved the place so much,” he said.
The evening Mr Brown’s beloved Yarloop went up in flames, he waswith his family at his home on Railway Parade.
They were aware a fire was burning nearby threatening properties near Waroona,but they hadn’t received any formal warning to leave the town yet.
“Apart from word of mouth at the station we got no warning, it was really up to yourself to make the decision [to leave],” Mr Brown said.
“I was on the roof, I was looking up that hill, and if you saw what was coming down you would’ve gone out as well.
“A lot of people made the decision to leave but some got caught totally unaware and didn’t even get the chance to leave.
“Four friends of mine ended up in the carpark at the hotel sheltering between cars with flames going over their heads.
“They are still traumatised.”
Mr Brown had been preparingfor the worst, wettingdown his property and hisneighbours’, who had already left.
But then the water ran out.
“When the water runs out there’s not much you can do,” he said.
“My partner said ‘come on, no point staying when there’s no water, you can’t fight’, so we moved out.
“It was just pointless really.”
Mike Brown’s new tattoo – Yarloop’s postcode and the date the historic town burnt down. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.
When Mr Brown and his family decided to leave the only way to get out of townwas through Clifton Road.
They jumped inside the family’s caravanand fled the town towards the emergency shelter in Australind, where they would spend then next ten days living inside the caravan before coming back to Yarloop.
“The first indications were that everything had gone,” he said.
Mr Brown said he expected the worst, but through family friends he found out his house had miraculously survived the ordeal, with the exception of some side buildings, fencingand a couple of sheds.
“We were happy we still had a house, but then you felt a little bit guilty that you had been spared when so many people lost everything,” he said.
“Seeing people lose everything, seeing people lose so much, seeing the town destroyed, it was hard.
“It was hard for everybody.
“We may not have lost a house but we lost a community, and a lot of people we knew have moved out.”
Mr Brown said it’s hard to describe what Yarloop looked like in the aftermath of the fires that destroyed more than 160 housesand nearly 70,000hectares.
“There was telephone poles just held up, the bottom completely gone, just masses of bent tin and rubble,” he said.
“You couldn’t even recognise some streets.”
He said a year later it isstill devastating to walk around town andsee sandpits where known buildings and homes used to stand.
“It’s just the overrating feeling that you just want the town to come back, and it deserves to come back,” he said.
“The people deserve it to come back.”
He said Yarloopis slowly recovering, with new homes being built and the school reopening ahead of the next school year, but there is still a lot of work to be done to bring people back to town.
He said he would like a new caravan park openingand new young families coming to live in Yarloop.
“Iwant to see the town move forward, and people getting their lives together again,” he said.
“I really believe it [Yarloop] isan undiscovered gem still.”
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