Escape from Mallacoota

By Geoff Adams

A Locksley farmer marooned in Mallacoota while Tuesday morning’s devastating bushfire swept over the coastal town described conditions as ‘‘like midnight’’.

Pilot and Locksley Fire Brigade member John Nissen and his wife Carolin Earl flew from Shepparton airport on Friday to spend a few days with Shepparton friends Keith Russell and wife Ann at their holiday home in the East Gippsland coastal town.

Mr Nissen said when fire threatened the town on the weekend they decided to remain.

‘‘We could see the firestorm building up over the mountain and we thought it safer to stay,’’ Mr Nissen said.

He said when the fire front hit the town on Tuesday they sheltered inside Mr Russell’s house 200m from the sea, with Mr Russell’s boat tied to the jetty.

‘‘The smoke was so dense it was like midnight. There was no visibility until about 9.30am,’’ Mr Nissen said.

‘‘It was very intense, you couldn’t get near it.’’

He said houses and buildings with cleared areas around them survived, while any structures backing directly on to bushland were engulfed.

‘‘It’s the same problem we have in Locksley — there’s been so much build-up of vegetation for many years. We just can’t get the permits to burn off,’’ he said.

Mr Nissen was now waiting for conditions to improve so he could fly out.

‘‘We can’t fly at the moment, smoke is down to the ground,’’ he said.

Mr Nissen said fire hit hardest at the town’s perimeter.

‘‘We’ve seen a couple of streets of total devastation. This is certainly as bad or worse than I have ever seen,’’ he said.

Mr Nissen said despite low fuel supplies and no power, people in the town were coping well.

He praised the early warnings and the preparation of firefighters and emergency workers.

‘‘Not to have a fatality is a credit to them, people should be thankful,’’ he said.

Mr Nissen was keen to get back to Locksley ahead of this weekend’s forecasted high temperatures.