Ralph & Lyn Miller live on 24 acres at Kiah, on the far south coast of NSW.
In the first few days of 2020 the couple were preparing their property for bushfires that were predicted for the area. They were well prepared and following all advice. Ralph had been a member of the RFS for many years so felt confident that if they followed correct procedures they’d be fine.
But by the 4th January the Nungatta fire and the Border fire were zeroing in and proving to be unstoppable. They met in Kiah and destroyed roughly 40 houses out of 70 in the area.
‘The church and community hall fell victim, along with every wooden bridge and plastic under-road drainpipe,’ said Ralph.
Ralph and Lyn had been preparing to stay to defend their home, but had the car packed up as well just in case.
The fires were like nothing they’d ever seen before and Ralph noted that ‘the air was running out of oxygen.’
They ended up leaving four hours before the fire hit and Ralph says, ‘any later and we wouldn’t have made it.’
‘We were extremely lucky.’
The couple evacuated three times that day – first to Eden, then to Merimbula Airport then, as the fire drew ever closer, to Merimbula itself.
‘We were fire refugees for several days, and as no one could get in here due to blocked roads, we didn’t know if our house was standing,’ said Ralph.
After four days, the couple returned to their property. Hundreds of power poles burnt down in the area, and there were wires lying on the ground to be negotiated, but the couple found their house still standing.
‘We were lucky as it turned out. Our house was alight, but went out. Part of our wooden deck was burnt and a wooden retaining wall leading up to the other side of our house, was burnt before falling on our rainwater tank and damaging it.’
‘All fences were burnt, and we lost three goats,’ said Ralph.
‘We’d emptied the shed of cars and lawnmowers and so on, and taken them down to the river bed. The fire stopped within a metre of the shed, so we were lucky there too.’
Without power for five weeks, the couple were not able to safely stay at their home, and so stayed at a friend’s place in Eden, travelling to their property each day to do as much clean up as possible.
Ralph and Lyn went in to the Recovery Centre in Eden where they met with Vinnies volunteers who were able to provide them with $1000 from the government, as well as money from the Vinnies bushfire appeal funds.
‘I couldn’t tell you exactly where that money went – there were just so many expenses. Hardware, plumbing, carpet cleaning. We’ve been flat out for five months. The amount of work has been incredible, from clearing many partly burnt fallen trees to repairing burnt sewer pipes and water lines.’
‘The retainer wall has now been replaced with one that won’t burn, and the tank is being replaced the day after tomorrow, weather permitting,’ Ralph said in mid-May.
The recovery process is long and expensive.
‘And we know we’re some of the lucky ones. There are plenty of people around here still in tents or caravans.’
‘And the damage to the environment and the wildlife will go on for ages.’
'There have been many expenses in the course of this work as well. So thank again Vinnies.'