FIRE UPDATE: Wangaratta, 7.15pm. Fire evacuees safe and sound

Kieren Tilly
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WANGARATTA Showgrounds was a hive of activity this evening as more than 200 people who had evacuated from fire dangers zones in the Ovens and King valleys bunkered down for the night.
Campervans, tents and even cars were makeshift homes for those relieved to be safe and sound, and extremely appreciative of the warm reception they’d received from volunteers from local Rotary and Lions clubs, and the Wangaratta Kennel Club, who have been serving free meals since Friday evening.
Around 50 people were at the Wangaratta Performing Arts and Convention Centre acting as the emergency relief centre, where volunteers from Wangaratta’s Rapid Relief Team have also being serving up meals.
While away from the danger zone, some residents were still pondering what may eventuate overnight, as the forecasted strong winds started to fan the Abbeyard fires.
The current fire emergency is not the first time that Graeme Martin and his wife Helene of Myrtleford have faced the threat of bushfires.
The Martins are among those residing at the Wangaratta Showgrounds – with their two dogs Pippa and Sarge.
The couple moved to Myrtleford in 2009 and a week later the disastrous 2009 Black Saturday bushfires struck.
“Personal safety has brought us to Wangaratta,” Graeme told the Wangaratta Chronicle.
“We wanted to get out of the way of everybody.
“If the fire comes through Myrtleford we are better off out of the way.
“The last fire in 2009 we did not get many warnings…we really did not know what was happening at the time.”
This time though Graeme said they’d been watching the new Victorian app and it’ been “absolutely fantastic”.
“When it says the fire is relatively close to you and it is a watch and act, our watching was what we put in our vehicle and our action was to get away from it (the fire),” he said.
“It is far easier to get away from it (the fires) and stay alive.”
Graeme reports that at the time he and Helene left Myrtleford there were still a number of residents remaining in the town.
“We were probably slower than some in leaving but we were always going to be leaving,” he said.
Graeme has been greatly impressed by the reception he and his wife have been given by Wangaratta and its residents.
“The mayor came in and thanked us for getting out and being safe…from my point of view that is a really nice thing for him to do, and seeing if we needed anything,” he said
“One of the council rangers came along behind the mayor and dropped off children’s wading pools so that those pets staying here at the showgrounds get an opportunity to cool off.”
Remarking on the kindness of strangers coming to help, Graeme was full of praise for not only the emergency services but the residents of Wangaratta.
“The emergency services have been fantastic, whether they are fully trained professionals or volunteers,” he said.
“Even complete strangers have been donating ice, ice blocks, fruit and vegetables and baked goods to those of us away from home.
“Wangaratta is a safe place to be and a great place to be.”
For up-to-date fire information go to the VicEmergency website http: // www.emergency.vic.gov.au


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