‘15 years of work gone in 10 minutes’

When a firestorm struck the towns of Buchan and Sarsfield in the summer of 2019-20, there was a point when everything had been engulfed by the flames.

Burning through vast plains and cattle fields, 24 homes were destroyed in Buchan, and great-grandfather Mick Roberts, who had lived at his property for 20 years, lost his life while trying to defend it.

“The fire came from the back here and the column fell over. And what it did was it just dropped everything onto the ground out here, so everything caught fire,” Buchan Caves Hotel owner, Greg Brick, said in an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire-affected communities, Open for Business.

“It was chaos at the time. Stand out in the road there and look around, 360-degrees, and there was nothing that wasn’t on fire.”

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The fires burned through plains, cattle fields and destroyed 24 homes. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

‘It was chaos at the time. Stand out in the road there and look around, 360-degrees, and there was nothing that wasn’t on fire.’ Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

A four-year drought didn’t help matters, Parks Victoria Ranger Team Leader, Hamish Hancock, explained, meaning “there was a lot of dry fuel and things in the area”.

At the Wildflower Bunch Flower Farm in Sarsfield, 14,500 plants were in the ground when the fires struck.

“The whole plantation was burnt in 10 minutes,” the farm’s co-owner, Kevin Giles, said.

“The neighbour said he couldn’t believe how fast the flames were running down the hill. 15 years of work gone up in 10 minutes.”

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A four-year drought didn’t help matters. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

At the Wildflower Bunch Flower Farm, 15 years of work was razed in just 10 minutes. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

More than a year later, now, and the region – and the “small, tight knit community” that inhabit it – is healing.

“Things are starting to rebuild,” the Buchan Caves Hotel’s Mara Brick said.

“You know, just to see the house getting a water tank, and then there’s a house at the end of the street with the trusses coming up, and we’re feeding builders and things are on the move. So there’s a lot of energy coming in now.

“The community just perseveres and gets through – and the strength that we have for each other is very bonding. I think it’s very good.”

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The region is well on its way to recovery, with ‘a lot of energy coming in now’. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Milusa Giles, who co-owns the Wildflower Bunch Flower Farm, agreed.

“People have really refocused since the bushfires on community spirit and on small businesses, and really trying to support people in local areas which is great – that’s what the communities need,” she said.

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The strength of the community in the wake of the fires has been ‘very bonding’. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

‘People have really refocused since the bushfires on community spirit and on small businesses.’ Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Thanks to the work of the fire teams, Mr Hancock said the community “were actually able to hold off a lot of those fires and save quite a number of houses”.

“Lots of new houses are being constructed around the area that are not fire rebuilds, they’re just new houses,” Mr Giles added.

“I think people are exiting the big cities and heading to the country.”

Kevin Giles said many people were leaving large urban centres for a quieter and simpler life in the country. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Nature in the area is also coming back to life.

“A year on now from the fires and we’re actually seeing really great regrowth in some of the areas of the forest,” Mr Hancock said.

“So because we did have a lot of rainfall events after the fires, we have seen a lot of that epicormic growth – which is the growth you see on the trunks of the trees – come back, which is really nice to see so it’s providing a bit of food and shelter for the native animals.”

The region is ‘a beautiful spot’. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Visitors are surprised by the area’s recovery, Hamish Hancock said. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

That regrowth was “crucial”, he added, in the overall atmosphere of the park.

“There is a lot of greenery. We get a lot of campers and visitors come in and say, ‘Oh, we thought the park was burnt’. Because of the recovery and the efforts of the team on the ground, we’ve got a lot of things back up and running.”

Sand dunes, just 40 minutes away. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

And beautiful beaches. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Without a doubt, Mr Brick said, the region was “a beautiful spot”.

“It is. You can take the kids through the caves, you can take the kids camping – it’s definitely a family destination,” he said.

One of its best aspects, Mr Hancock said, was the variation of landscapes on offer.

“You can go from 40 minutes away on the coast, we’ve got beautiful stretching beaches and sand dunes. And then down the road, you’re coming into beautiful open rural country lands and then you hit the limestone landscape in Buchan, especially big undulating hills and stark contrast between flat flood plains and high hills,” he explained.

The area is a family friendly destination with lots of activities suitable for kids. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

“The region’s just amazing,” Ms Giles agreed. “We’ve got beautiful rivers, we’ve got the mountains now far away, beautiful camping areas, we’ve got the beach. Why wouldn’t you come to Sarsfield? It’s just lovely.”

“For me,” Mr Hancock added, “You’ve got the best of all worlds. And that’s why I love living here. Because no matter what you're into, you can find something to do.”

For the next 14 weeks, news.com.au in partnership with Tourism Australia and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency will showcase bushfire impacted regions that need our support. For the full video series, check out Open for Business

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