Deans Marsh Road home saved bucket by bucket

February 10, 2023 BY

Lorne resident Doug Sterling outside the former home of Frank Watson that he helped save during Ash Wednesday. Photo: TIM LAMACRAFT

Lorne’s Doug Sterling has witnessed many fires in Lorne during his 100 years of living in the town, but the Ash Wednesday blazes are the worst in his memory.

Mr Sterling assisted 77-year old Frank Watson to defend his Deans Marsh Road home in Lorne by bucketing water from a neighbouring tank, saving the home from being one of the more than 50 homes destroyed cross the Lorne region on February 16, 1983.

“He was a Rat of Tobruk and had poor eyesight… so I thought the least I could do was help him out,” Mr Sterling recalled.

“We’d slosh the water on the fence and the house, and then we’d lay down on the lawn and there’s fresh air that far (measures 3-4 inches) off the grass, and we’d lay there and get our lungs full of fresh air and then up we’d get and slosh the water.

“One of the biggest reasons why houses caught alight is the window sills and the door sills, hot ash would get in there… it would be fanned with the hot air and up the whole thing would go.

“If you had a cup full of water, you could just stop it and you could save the house like that, it was as simple as that.

“We did that for about half an hour or more until the front had gone through.”

Remembering the experience as terrifying, he said the firefront was “like all hell broke loose” and that unoccupied homes nearby were “blowing up”.

“You could hear the big gas bottles blowing the top right off, like a big blowout roaring like mad, the noise was terrific,” he said.

Mr Sterling estimated the fire took 20 minutes to reach Lorne from its Deans Marsh ignition point, with a “howling northerly behind it,” and thanks to a wind change, the town was saved.

“It was just that (southerly) wind change that saved Lorne, because if it had kept the northerly, they would have had two fronts happening at once.”

During 1983, Victoria was in severe drought and Mr Sterling recalled the bush “crackling under your feet”.

“It was so dry and just ready for an explosion… and of course they had water shortages,” he said.

Mr Sterling believes Lorne is better equipped for fire thanks to reservoirs around town that firefighters can use in an emergency.

“Now it’s still dry, but we’ve had the moisture in the ground from the rains that we’ve had and the long winter.

“That’s not to say we couldn’t get a fire under the right conditions, because it could dry out immediately with a stinking hot northerly.”