“It was as if nothing could ever live again”
Long-time Aireys Inlet resident Rachel Faggetter remembers the district being on edge about the possibility of fire during the summer of 1982-83.
Much of the state was in drought and a local town hall meeting had been organised in January, when people were still around, to formulate a plan.
“We were very conscious that it might happen… that summer,” Ms Faggetter said.
“We’d had 10 months of drought, there was not a drop in the dams, it was tinder-dry.
Her recollections of February 16, 1983, remain vivid to this day.
“That day – Ash Wednesday – it was 43 [degrees] I think, it was incredibly hot… and the winds were very capricious, they would come and go,” she remembered.
Ms Faggetter had her four-year old daughter, and called her neighbour Jenny Hughes to offer her child a lift home from school due to the heat.
“As I turned into the drive there was a brilliant blue sky, but there was an incredible column of smoke over in the distance towards Deans Marsh.”
Ms Hughes’s husband Howard was in the CFA and the neighbours used his emergency services radio to keep them informed.
“At six o’clock police came and said ‘you must get out, just leave’ and we didn’t quarrel with that,” she said.
“We got to Anglesea and it was chaos, there were no evacuation plans, ever, and no one had a clue.”
Amid the chaos, Ms Faggetter said authorities directed them on to Torquay
“What a foolish thing to do, I will never forget that drive, because as I was driving out of Anglesea the fire was behind us… reaching to the sky.”
Ms Faggetter tuned into the 6am radio news the next morning after sleeping on a friend’s floor in Geelong.
“The ABC said the following towns have ceased to exist, and Aireys being ‘A’ was the first one,” she said.
She and her husband later returned to find a “miracle”; their Gilbert Street home was still standing.
“It was sitting on ash, but it itself had not been breached, amazing; every other house on the hillside had gone.
“It was as if nothing could ever live again… I felt as if the soil had been burnt. For a long time, the bush was silent and then after a time the birds came back.
“It’s always been a milestone in my life, you know, before and after the fire.”