Buchan resident, Jim Norling, and his friend, Judy Sturrock, were spraying water around his property in the heart of the town when the inferno wreaked its fury across the landscape.
Mr Norling and Ms Sturrock had earlier been putting the chooks to bed and feeding the cockatoos and the five sheep on the property.
It was just before 7.30pm on December 30 and Mr Norling was wetting down around the property when the CFA rolled up and told them to go.
Mr Norling is still amazed by the sight of the fire sprinting across the paddocks.
“It was a bit like when you see tumbleweeds rolling along, except these were fireballs rolling across the landscape.”
Realising his sprinkling of water around the property wasn’t any match for the fire’s fury, Mr Norling was on his bike and fled with Ms Sturrock to the football ground where many of the town’s residents were huddled.
Sleeping at the football ground overnight, Mr Norling made his way back to his property at daybreak to assess the damage.
The house was gone and so too were six vehicles, but his large tin workshop and a couple of other vehicles survived.
Mr Norling loves to tinker with his cars, hence his small collection.
Only one of his vehicles, a ute, was insured and the insurance company has already paid out.
The alloy wheels on the car had melted and silver strips run through the house yard.
“I was a bit lucky as I had only recently re-insured it and the insurance company asked me if I wanted fire and theft insurance. I asked how much is that? and they said an extra 28 cents, so I said righto,” Mr Norling said.
Mr Norling’s house was also insured.
As he surveyed the damage, Mr Norling was surprised to hear his rooster crow and went to inspect the chook pen at the back of the property.
While two chooks had succumbed to the intense heat from the fire, four others survived.
“They’re still laying,” Mr Norling said.
Five sheep that were in a paddock behind the chook pen also made it through, despite their paddock being burnt out.
Sadly, two pet cockatoos locked in a cage perished. The eldest was 30 years while the other was aged eight.
The house cats have also emerged from the rubble unscathed.
Mr Norling, who is now in accommodation in Bairnsdale until his house is rebuilt, was at his Buchan property this week feeding the animals with Ms Sturrock. “My grandson has a scrap metal place (Crawfords) in Sarsfield so he will be able to clear all this away. I suppose he’ll be busy for a while,” Mr Norling said.
Ms Sturrock was philosophical about the blaze that claimed 28 houses in the Buchan district, including four in the township itself.
“There’s nothing you can do about it, there’s always someone else worse off,” she said.
Mr Norling said he was disappointed to have lost his sign, which had been a talking point in East Gippsland for years: ‘Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be prosecuted’.
“I’ll get another one,” he said, as he plucked a few old relics from the rubble.
IMAGE: The intensity of the fire melted the alloy wheels on the ute of Buchan resident, Jim Norling. K32-3849