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Firestorm engulfs Tasmanian village

Tasmanian bushfi res, January 2013. Photo: Creative Commons

As the nation reels from one of the worst fire seasons in years, Nigel Tapp reports on the aftermath of the bushfire which almost annihilated a Tasmanian community.

Before January, not many Queenslanders would have heard of the tiny southern Tasmanian town of Dunalley.

But over 24 hours on 4 January Australians witnessed horrifying images of a ferocious firestorm which ripped through the sleepy fishing village, which acts as the gateway to the Tasman Peninsula.

More than 100 homes, the local school, a large family-owned sawmill and a bakery were destroyed in the blaze.

Only 45 homes in the town survived the inferno, which did not claim any lives.

Many families had to wait a week before it was safe to return and see for themselves the extent of the damage.

Retired Uniting Church minister Rev David Parker joined the first convoy, only 72 hours after the fire.

He described the damage to the town as "incredible".

Bushfires are not uncommon in Tasmania but what set the Dunalley blaze apart was the speed with which it engulfed the town.

The only thing that moved faster than the fire was the response by Tasmanians, and Australians.

Within hours evacuation centres — including one which housed more than 2000 people and another with in excess of 600 people at the height of the fire storm — were established, and food appeals had been initiated.

Boat owners took to the water to ferry supplies into the area.

UnitingCare Tasmania and the Presbytery of Tasmania immediately began planning how to support those affected, particularly in the long-term, while still responding to initial needs.

Frontier Services has indicated the possibility of providing a Remote Area Family Services (RAFS) team in the Tasman Peninsula area, and arrangements have been made to provide ministry support at Sorell.

More than 111 000 ha of bush and farmland were destroyed in six days by fires, from as far south as the Tasman Peninsula and the Derwent Valley, to Bicheno on the east coast, George Town east of Launceston and Montumana, in the far north-west.

To make a donation to the Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal go to shareappeal.org.au or call 1800 668 426.

To make a donation to the National Disaster Relief Fund go to assembly.uca.org.au/donate or call 1800 772 851.

To make a donation to the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT Bushfire Appeal go to livingisgiving.nsw.uca.org.au/donate/.

Nigel Tapp Senior Communications Officer for the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

Photo : Tasmanian bushfi res, January 2013. Photo: Creative Commons