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Horror bushfire ordeal for Heidi

Tuesday, 7th January, 2020

The township of Eden, NSW as smoke and embers filled the sky on Saturday. PICTURE: Heidi Drenkhahn The township of Eden, NSW as smoke and embers filled the sky on Saturday. PICTURE: Heidi Drenkhahn

By Emily McInerney

Local Heidi Drenkhahn has spent a harrowing weekend preparing for the moment the bushfire would finally engulf her hometown.

Heidi spends the festive season in her hometown of Eden, NSW most years, but she knew this year would be different especially with bushfires threatening the coastline of Australia.

It was touch and go over the weekend with the car packed and ready to go, parts of her family moving to the designated ‘safer place’.

Finally Heidi and her family evacuated to Merimbula, NSW and returned on Monday.

“We’re really relieved to be home,” she said yesterday.

“Conditions have eased and it hasn’t impacted the town as much as first thought.

“You do question ‘Why did we leave?’”

Heidi said her family home is based near a headland lookout and surrounded two-fold by bay.

“It’s almost an island, we’re surrounded 320 degrees by water.

“There is not a huge amount of vegetation, so we felt safe enough to stay on Saturday.

“Volunteer rescue did come door knocking and said they recommended people get out of town and head north.

“Our designated ‘safer place’ was the wharf at the front of our house and we thought, if needed, we could take refuge there.

“We packed up my car with all the important things and my mum and my dog went to stay in the car down there.

“We thought we could stay to defend the house and run down to the wharf in 20 seconds.”

She said the wharf was like a parking lot with campervans, caravans and people with their pets and animals all waiting.

Heidi said the fire did seem to slow Saturday but by Saturday night it had flared up again.

“We were really worried about Eden, it is surrounded by Eucalypt forest; so if the raging fire hits it - there would be no way to stop it.

“The RFS, Forestry department and National Parks had all been working towards tackling it, they knew it was coming for a long time.

“They had containment lines set, but the fire jumped those lines.

“There were more containment lines closer towards town. The fire seems to have come up the southern side of the bay and missed the easterly direction of the town.

“Unfortunately there are more communities along the south.

“It’s been a hairy couple of days.”

Heidi said there was always a risk in the area of bushfires and there hadn’t been a big bushfire that impacted the township of Eden since 1952.

“It’s been over half a century since a big bushfire came through, there had been little fires around town.

“But we know how much of a risk the area is. You just hope a fire never starts.”

She said the township did have a couple of days to prepare as it was about 100km away last week.

“People were cleaning out their gutters, cutting back trees, mowing lawns. We had a fantastic level of warning.

“And we felt prepared to defend our property.”

Heidi said Eden had been an evacuation point for Mallacoota.

“We offered places to stay, free meals and showers, but in the back of our minds we knew the fire could do the same to us.

“Then the call came out for tourists to leave, which they did and the town which normally has 10,000 people around Christmas was down to 3,500 people.

“It became a ghost town. It was deathly quiet. The waiting was the worst.

“We knew the fire was raging and breaking containment lines, the sky was orange but we could only get so much information.”

She said it was very disorientating and felt like they had 24-hours of night with the thick black skies.

“The threat is not over but hopefully it can stay well contained.”

Heidi said it was great to see so many people donating to help those impacted by fires but in the long run an economy boost will be needed.

“They’re saying in Victoria - that they’ve got plenty of food and eventually they will need clothes and supplies.

“But the majority of people will need to get the economy going again. That’s why in six months’ time people should start visiting these towns.

“It will keep us ticking along, our fishing industry is almost unaffected.

“But our timber industry has been heavily affected, there is a column of smoke coming from our chip mill and all our wood chips are causing a raging fire.

“That industry will be knocked out for a year or more.

“We need to the tourism industry now.

“Thankfully a lot of our National Parks are ok, our water is still beautiful.

“It will take a while for the town to get back on its feet but once it does we need people to visit.

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