A story from Lenswood in South Australia, reflecting life in September 2020.
Remembering the fire front approaching the property where she and her family live and run their winery still provokes raw emotion for Clare Anderson.
“We’d had four days of really hot weather, over 40 degrees, but no wind,” Clare relates. “I woke up that morning and was going to water the veggie patch, but something didn’t feel right. I checked my phone and there was a fire at Cudlee Creek.”
Clare woke her husband, who was exhausted after returning from a wine selling trip the night before.
“Within 20 minutes we’d received a call from a friend saying ‘get ready, it’s heading your way and it won’t be stopped’,” Clare remembers.
Living where they do, the Andersons always have a fire plan prepared. At the start of each bushfire season, they get the kids together to practice packing bags, operating the water pump, and all the other things they needed to put into action that day.
“We’d packed the car with important paperwork and photos, we were stuffing the gutters with damp towels and running the sprinklers that are aimed at the sheds and house,” said Clare.
“We were ready to evacuate, but when we initially saw the fire coming over the hills I was prepared to stay and defend.”
The fire came in a second wind. It hit the two houses next to Anderson Hill. When 30 foot flames engulfed the neighbour’s house 800 metres away, Clare’s 15 year old son told her “Mum, we need to go.”
Clare took her youngest son, and their cats and dogs, to her mother’s house at Mt Barker. Her husband and older son, who had just turned 18, stayed to defend their property.
For the next five hours, Clare had no contact with her family on the fire front. Fire also came within 3 kilometres of Mt Baker, so she did not feel safe there either.
“At about 4:30 in the afternoon, my husband was able to get through on the phone. He said it was safe to come back,” said Clare.
“What I came back to was quite shocking. The forest was still on fire, though the wind had died down. The stringy barks behind the house were still burning. The vineyard looked horrendous. It was all black with charred posts, some still on fire.”
The impact of the Adelaide Hills fires on the Anderson’s business was significant. They lost 45% of their grape vines and most of the remaining grapes were spoiled due to smoke taint.
“It will take three or four years to replace the lost vines,” said Clare.
Clare and her husband, Ben, have strong ties to their local community, both in Lenswood where their winery is, and in the broader area, having grown up in the Adelaide Hills. They are an integral part of their community, and host Lenswood Locals Night at their winery. This has become an important local hub as the community recovers from the Black Summer bushfires.
“I’ve seen a huge amount of mental health support in our community. Having locals come up here and talk to each other is probably the most useful thing they can do. Just to tell their stories and talk to others who understand,” Clare said.
The Andersons have also seen a lot of practical support in the community. They also received a lot of support themselves as they began to rebuild.
“I got on Facebook and within half an hour had 30 volunteers to help pull out burned irrigation and posts in the vineyard,” said Clare.
“We had a working bee for two days, and we received food donations to keep everyone going.”
After replacing the irrigation so they could water the vines, they discovered that the bore wiring and damn pump were destroyed. Having to replace those at short notice was difficult and expensive.
“It took us a couple of weeks to get the Lobethal Recovery Centre, but once we did they were brilliant,” said Clare.
“They had representatives from state government, council, mental health services, army, health care, animal welfare, and environment.”
Through the assistance provided at the Recovery Centre, the Andersons received the $75,000 primary producer grant. Additionally, the army removed logs from their property, and BlazeAid helped replace fencing.
“Recovery has been a slow process,” said Clare. “Insurance has been slow coming, and we are so thankful for the grant that has allowed us to keep the business operating.”