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               Roleystone/Kelmscott Fire - Latest
     
  Sunday, February 6  
 

This evening we learned from Nic, our son who is house sitting our home in Perth, that many houses in the area have been destroyed in an enormous fire. From first reports, ours is basically okay though the carport, a pergola on the rear of the house, an air conditioner and the garden shed and contents have been destroyed. Nobody is being allowed to re-enter the area at this time.

We were out without our mobile phones when Nic was desperately trying to contact us to say he was being evacuated by the Police. He wanted to know what was most important to save. In the end he grabbed the insurance file. Good move. He also wanted to know the point of us having mobile phones if we don't carry them with us? Hmmm.

When we returned to the caravan both mobile phones and the modem held Evacuate Immediately messages. This seems an excellent system for warning multiple households simultaneously.

 
 


 
  Monday, February 7  
 

The whole area has been evacuated and all roads closed so more detailed information will not be forthcoming for a while. The media reports 35 homes lost but that is expected to rise. That number may include other fires to the north of Perth, one of which appears to have been started by a power cable. A local fire fighter has been injured.

First reports indicate the fire in our area was deliberately lit as it had multiple sources.

 
     
   
 

All that remains of the Buckingham Bridge where Brookton Highway crosses the turgid Canning River.
The main highway serving Roleystone will be out of commission for weeks. Not my picture.

 
     
 

The Buckingham Bridge on Brookton Highway has been destroyed, cutting off direct access to Roleystone for the fire fighters, God bless them.

Pam and I are awaiting a more detailed report before deciding on how to respond. At this stage a few hours either way will make little difference.

 
     
  Later Monday  
 

We have spoken to Nic who scoffed at any suggestion that we should return home. He talked as though he experiences this sort of thing every day. He suggested we were panicking.

The total of lost houses has risen to 41. The home owners are still not being allowed back into the area so we're not much wiser regarding our damage.

After the last bad fire we installed a commercial fire hose at the most vulnerable end of the house. Yesterday, the first time it was really needed, there was no water. Nic said that, as the fire approached, not only did the water supply fail but the power and phones too.

 
     
  Tuesday, February 8  
 

No real change except that the total of houses lost has risen to 68. Residents are still not allowed back until damaged power poles and cables have been replaced, and trees in a dangerous condition have been felled. It might not be today, even.

 
     
   
  One of the first pictures smuggled out. The back of our house.  
     
 

Above is a photo someone (who shouldn't have been there) took of our back yard. Looks the same as usual to me. Oh, and we saw from other photos that two of our three split-system air conditioners have gone. The third (with the Weber behind it) looks okay in this picture.

We are absolutely overwhelmed by all the good wishes and offers of help from so many friends. Thank you all so much.

 
     
  Later Tuesday  
 

The fire which destroyed at least 68 homes and damaged many more is now said to have been started by an off-duty police officer using an angle grinder. As there was a total fire ban that day, this man faces a total of 12 months in gaol or a $25,000 fine or both. As yet he has not been charged.

 
     
  Wednesday  
 

Late yesterday Nic was allowed, under escort, to briefly inspect the damage to the house and retrieve anything he needed. Many windows cracked with the heat, the house interior stinks of smoke, all outdoor furniture and sleeper retaining walls are ash. The place where the garbage and recycling bins stood is marked by two steel axles and a pile of beer bottles. (What else would an Aussie expect?) The garden watering system ceased to exist, and so on.

The Western Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, announced an Emergency Relief Payment of $1,000 for houses that were not destroyed but suffered damage. Pam enquired about it and was told by a bureaucrat that unless the house was structurally damaged we were not entitled. The carport, pergolas, air conditioners, outdoor lighting, garden shed and contents, fences and all the rest don't count, it seems.

The Premier has received an email from me today. Bet that scared him.

 
     
  Later Same Day  
 

Nic has been allowed to return to the house now though there is no electricity or land line telephone. Everything in everybody's fridges and freezers will be ruined. Nic wants to know if there's a Cheesecake Relief Fund. Don't think so.

Late news. A WA Police Sergeant has been arrested and charged with setting the fire (accidentally but in defiance of a total fire ban). He is now on holiday! Could use some help around our place, Sarge.

 
     
  Thursday  
   
  Ever wonder what a garbage wheelie bin and a recycling wheelie bin look like after cremation?  
     
 

The number of homes lost is now either 71 or 72 depending on whether you believe the reporter on the internet or the text below the pictures.

Things at home are now settling down to battles with various bureaucracies. Nic had a win, though. He approached the local shire for the $1,000 Emergency Relief Payment and had it granted at once. He also got a quote for cutting down two dangerous trees and clearing the other fallen trees from around the house. So, now the $1,000 from the Government - and more - is already spent! Didn't go far, did it?

Telstra is coming to repair the phone line at the junction box on the street verge at some unspecified time in the future. Nobody is seriously ill in the house so we go to the back of the queue.

The power authority (Synergy) has chopped off the badly burned cables at the pole on the street. Before they will reconnect the house a qualified electrician has to certify it safe. But can we authorise an electrician before the insurance assessor has inspected the property? We tried to ask the insurers and discovered that all their claims administrators, though desperately eager to assist us, were a tad busy at the moment. We know that's true because they told us at 15 second intervals for an hour. Eventually we received clearance to call in the electrician and authorise him to do whatever is required.

Now we wait for the insurance assessor to tell us of all the things which are not included in our cover.

 
  Later Thursday  
 

The electrician arrived, disconnected all suspect appliances, and cleared Synergy, the power company, to reconnect the power.

The Synergy crew had worked wonders. In the interim they had strung out a new cable from the street. As soon as the 'sparkie' gave the all clear, power was reconnected to the house.

Telstra repaired the telephone line and the house phone is now working.

The insurance assessor called to say he couldn't get there for TWO WEEKS. A strongly worded complaint to CommInsure was sent and within three hours the assessor had reduced the two week delay to two or three working days. Much better!

The house now has power, water and a phone service. Very well done and very efficient given the pressure the service providers must be working under.

 
     
  Friday  
 

This morning some tree loppers dropped a large branch onto our one-day-old power cable, ripping the connection fixture right out of the gable of our house. Isn't life fun?

 
     
   
 

The blue circle shows where the power cable was attached to the house before the tree loppers tore it out this morning.
The fire had just got into the roof (yellow circle) when the fire fighters caught it. That was very close! A few more minutes and it would be a very different story. The red ellipse indicates the paint peeling from under the house eaves. You can see how the horizontal beam is sagging at its right hand end, emphasised by the angle between the beam and the eaves.

 
     
 

Nic told us an anecdote this morning. On the previous Wednesday he and several others had been escorted back by bus to briefly visit their homes. The bus stopped outside one totally burned-out ruin and the distraught owners disembarked and called out to their cat which they hadn't seen since before the fire. The cat appeared out of the bush and ran to them. They carried it onto the bus. Small compensation but quite a comfort to them.

A little later another couple disembarked to find their home totally destroyed but their chicken coop intact and all their chooks alive. The bus returned with one passenger cuddling a cat and all the others nursing chickens. The chickens, incidentally, had stopped laying some time ago. To their amazement the coop was full of eggs. So that's how to make them lay!

 
     
   
  Glass doesn't stand up to heat too well. The two plastic butterflies are there to deter birds from flying into the glass.  
     
 

The house toll from the fire seems to have stabilised at 72 destroyed and between thirty and forty damaged. I suppose that figure depends on who defines 'damaged'.

A publication called the 'W.A. News' today ran the headline:

ONE SPARK, 72 HOMES DESTROYED – BUT FIRE-RAVAGED COMMUNITY FORGIVES 'UNCLE BOB'

The bushfire-ravaged community of Roleystone has rallied around a police officer and local resident known in the neighbourhood as "Uncle Bob", who has been charged with starting one of Perth's most devastating bushfires.

The article mainly concentrates on one woman's opinion of Sergeant Robert Stevens who will face court on 15th March. If the views of Denise Hardie are accurate, Robert Stevens is a pillar of the community and an all round good guy who gives freely of his time, yet never seeks the limelight.

The City of Armadale Mayor, Linton Reynolds, also said there was a spirit of forgiveness in the community.

Strangely Denise Hardie speaks of Sergeant Stevens in the past tense: "He was just a fabulous person and everyone called him Uncle Bob."

As only one resident is quoted, one who is described as a friend of Robert Stevens and presumably one whose property was not affected, it is difficult to place a lot of credibility in this story.

 
     
  The following tuesday (15th February)  
 

Everything seemed to come to a halt over the weekend. On Monday Nic played Telephone Tag with the claims assessor. She - Wendy is her name - managed to speak to me, but all attempts by Nic and Wendy to contact each other failed. This continued into Tuesday.

 
     
  Wednesday  
 

Wendy, the claims assessor, visited the house but has to return as the battery in her camera ran down. However, her conversation with Nic left him quite optimistic. Our current task is to list all the contents of the garden shed which is well nigh impossible to remember. Let's see, there were some sacks of something beneath the shelving . . . but what? There were many tools on the shelves and on the workbench - spanners, sockets, extensions and associated bits and pieces, a Stillson wrench, screwdrivers, saws, blades, a smoothing plane bits of electronic equipment but exactly what? If you have a shed you'll understand.

 
     
  U.S. Navy Helps in Bushfire clean up  
 

Just after the fire the "USS Shoup" docked in Fremantle for her crew to enjoy some Rest and Recreation. Some of the U.S. sailors volunteered to assist in the clean-up operation and what a job they did! Under a scorching sun they made short work of cutting up and removing fallen timber from our front yard. Rest? Recreation? Just the opposite. Thanks, guys, we're extremely grateful.

 
     
No wonder he was hot, the temperature was around 40°C.                                        The council was there too with trucks and a front end loader.
     That's our house behind his hat, Nic's car on the drive.                                         This pic shows the house of neighbours, George and Weibke.
     
They were not all guys, there were girls too.                                                      What a lovely gesture, we are most grateful to them.
  The four pictures above were taken by Theo Fakos and appeared in Perth Now.  
     
  Friday 25th february; Fire Plus 19 days  
 

Once all the drama of the fire was over, the keen enthusiasm to rush in and put things right slowly gave way to bureaucratic confusion and delays. Within a few days of the fire Wendy, our insurance assessor, issued a "do and charge" authorisation to a glazier to replace the thirteen window panes cracked by the heat. That authorization went to the company's head office in New South Wales who relayed it to their head office in Western Australia. By the time it reached the closest depot to our house the instruction had become "measure and quote". So they measured up and then, apparently, sat on their hands for no windows have been replaced; the glazier was waiting for authorisation. There is a definite lack of communication.

The same thing seems to have happened with the air conditioning units that were burned. Authorisation was given but nothing has happened.

Two weeks ago Nic was advised to expect a new fridge to replace one destroyed in the garden shed. Nothing has arrived.

 
     
  Saturday 12th March; Fire plus 34 days  
 

Dealing with CommInsure, the insurance arm of the Commonwealth Bank, is a lesson in supreme frustration and inaction. The whole organisation seems geared to avoid fulfilling its commitment to you. If you phone them you receive the "All our operators are busy" message. Sending them an angry and frustrated email may elicit a response and you may get a phone call urging you to call that person directly if you have any problems. You take the callers name and direct phone number with a fleeting feeling of triumph. Of course, when you do call that number back you get voicemail, so you leave a message and they don't return your call. You're back where you started. If CommInsure had a human face you would punch it but this organisation is like a puff of smoke, impossible to grab.

Thirty four days after the fire we have now had most of the windows replaced. As for the shed and its contents, the air conditioners, the carport, the pergola, the Hills hoist, the fences, the fire damage to the house . . . well, we are still getting the run around and have no idea where we stand.

 
     
  Wednesday, 23rd March; fire plus 45 Days  
 

All the windows broken by the heat have now been replaced. NOTHING else has been done. Please read the last sentence under 12 March above. It is still true.

 
     
  Monday, 11th April; Fire Plus 64 days  
 

The paragraph above is still true. A month has passed and nothing has cahnged.

 
     
  Wednesday, 13 April; Fire plus 66 days  
 

Yesterday I decided enough was enough. I wrote to the Insurance Ombudsman, not lodging a formal complaint, but asking their advice on whether such a complaint would be justified, outlining the situation as it stood.

Today, one day later, after waiting 66 days since the fire, CommInsure called and are settling about 50% of the issues immediately and are proceeding with the remainder. Coincidence? I'm saying nothing because I really don't know.

Also, the air conditioners are to be replaced this week. At last!

 
     
  Monday, 2 May; Fire Plus 85 Days  
 

In four days it will be three calendar months since the fire. The damaged glass and air conditioners have been replaced and the insurers have paid us out on most of the garden shed's contents. The remainder of the shed contents have been covered by a credit account opened for us at Bunnings. We can't replace the shed's contents yet as the shed has not been replaced.

No building work has been done - no retaining walls replaced, no fences replaced, the carport is still not usable and the pergola is still hanging from the house at the rear. Several other items are outstanding BUT the assessor has been given the go-ahead to authorise the building company to commence. We cheered at that development but then nothing at all happened. Ho-hum.

 
     
  Thursday, 23 June. Now 137 days since the fire on 6th february.  
 

The only change to the entry above is that the boundary fence is currently being replaced. Nothing else has been done. Comminsure, Cunningham Lindsey (the assessors) and Central Building Management (who are supposed to co-ordinate the repair work) still fail to reply to emails and fail to return calls. In fact, they fail to do anything at all. The claim is not in dispute . . . those responsible for making good the damage just sit on their hands.

 
     
  Christmas, 2011. Eight months since the fire.  
  The repairs are nearly complete. Just some odds and ends to tidy up.