Former Grampians ParkiesPam and Alan returned to Halls Gap Lakeside Caravan Park soon after the recent bushfires to find they felt like they were coming home.
We arrived at Halls Gap Lakeside Caravan Park at 9.30 on thenight of Friday, Feb 3rd after driving through the eerie blackened landscape from Moyston with the reddest sunset you have ever seen, glowing brightly behind the mountain ranges, Alan said.
The smell of smokewas most noticeable and we hardly spoke a word during the drive.Fallen trees were pushed off to the side of the road which reopened on Thursday, Feb. 2.
As we paid Lakeside managers Tom and Helen Marshall for accommodation in one of their Superior cabins they told us we were their second cabin customer in two weeks, he said.
Editor's note 14-02-2006: Most of the main roads into Halls Gap did not reopen until the week of Feb. 6 and the road Southto Dunkeld has reopened in the last few days.
We awoke early Saturday morning to the peace and tranquility, the green and the shade that Lakeside offers. There were a few brown burnt spots to the easton the mountain range behind the park from spot fires and ember attack. To the north, the valley floor remained untouched and washome to grey kangaroos, deer anda pair of emus with four small chicks.
To the south of the park is the huge wall of Lake Bellfield, behindwhich the infernos of the firestormshad raged 12 days earlier.
In complete contrast to that horror we listened to the birds, kookaburras laughed, magpies warbled, crimson rosella, wattle birds, top knot pigeons, red crested black cockatoo flew about, with a few screeching corellas and lorikeets.
Tom (pictured right)worked to vacuum the blackash from the normally crystal clear waters of the park swimming pool. Helen swept the roadway.A couple of campers cooked bacon and eggs on their barbecue sending an inviting smell wafting through the caravan park. The sun shone. We thought Life goes on.
Halls Gap Lakeside Caravan Park Manager Helen Marshall remembers the inferno like a war zone.
It was un-nerving, she told GoSeeAustralia. All the thick greysmokebillowed over thewall of Lake Bellfield and we did not know where the fire was or whether it was coming or going.
Helen said the heat was so intense that -Rock exploded on theridge. Huge explosions! One after the other!There were helicopters everywhere, filling from Lake Bellfield and bombing the banks. Elvis (helicopter) was huge - the noise and vibrationwas unbelievable, but re-assuring.
You could not see for smoke and falling embers.The heat was unbearable. Fernsunder shade cloth in the fernery shriveled and white paint flaked off the two ton LPG tank.We had the sprinkler spraying the tank for three days.The park had been evacuated, she said.
The whole area experiencedpower failure for up to45 hours.The phones were out. No mobile service in a lot of areas.Food went off in fridges and freezers.The town water supply had been converted to fire fighting water from the lake and as such was not suitable for human consumption.Bottled water was made available free of charge for drinking purposes, Alan said.
But says Alan recovery was already under way Janine McDonald at the Halls Gap visitor information centre was busy withtelephone enquiries for the annual Halls Gap Jazz Festival on Feb 10, 11 12th. (See 5000 come for cool jazz)Ralphy (from Ralphys Takeaway) had a sign at his shop thanking God, the firefighters, Elvis,good friends and the rain, Alan said.Ralphy told Go SeeAustralia that hehad lost his house and everything init to the bushfires. But hehas moved on and saysit's great to be alive.
Pomonal resident Karen Colyer says the fires on their side of the mountain burnt hotter and blacker than on the Halls Gap side.They raged in all directions she told GoSee Australia.They would come one way one day, then again the other way another day. It just seemed to go on and on for days.We had to sit up all night to protect our property for two or three days, she said.
In 1939 major fires came over the mountain and burnt out Pomonal, but this time the town was saved, but it was too close for comfort.Local John Repper is one of those people who, if you don't know them, you do after the first two minutes.All smiles, all happy and an invitation to abarbie at his place just to thank everyone for their help and support.
Glenda Naudi of Halls Gap Parkgate Resort said the fires came within meters of their property.It was saved through the efforts of the firefighters, and Elvis the Erickson Aircrane. They had to evacuate about 130 guests.Now it is all over it is business as usual, and she can jokingly make the comment If there is smoke around and no CFA people - it means they have left and it is OK,so if there is smoke around and CFA people around, you will be safe.
We arrived to find Halls Gap Caravan Park right into a big clean up, Alan said.
At the Halls Gap General Store News agency Eve Mangle was selling fire pics taken by local residents with the proceeds going to fire relief appeal. As Saturday (Feb 4) was the first day most of the roads had been reopened, she was pleased to see the number of people visiting Halls Gap already. Actually I am run off my feet but that is great for the community, she said.
At Grampians Gardens Caravan Park the fire passed through the rear of their camping area, it burnt across the road and around the fire station, but firefighters saved the situation.
Jackie and Bruce, Managers at Lake Fyans Holiday Village say without the help of Telstra and Powercor workers in their area at the time, they would not have been able to prevent the fire from burning into the park. It burnt all around the park but through the efforts of the workers only a boundary fence was lost, Alan said.