Black Saturday: Marysville Fires
By Ivor Jones, pastor, Mount Cathedral Baptist Church, Buxton
Saturday the 7th of February 2009 started off well for me; picking up three passengers, two from Marysville and one from Taggerty for a 45km trip to the Victorian town of Alexandra to attend an interdenominational Men’s Breakfast at which I was the guest speaker. Little did I know that within seven hours I would be back in Alexandra with my wife Yvonne, along with most other residents of the burned out town of Marysville, as evacuees without house and possessions. (Including all six who attended the Men’s breakfast from Marysville that morning)
Black Saturday saw fires on a scale never before experienced in Victoria, or throughout Australia. With temperatures over 45c, high winds in excess of 70kms, dry grasslands and forests with years of uncleared and unattended dry fuel was a recipe for disaster which saw some 2000 homes lost resulting in many casualties and, as I write, over 200 lives taken. Over 420,000ha destroyed, some 7000 homeless with at least twenty towns and hamlets affected right across the State of Victoria. Beautiful scenic Marysville has been burned to the ground 1500 residents have lost their homes, the town is still closed after 12 days, it is a crime scene with police still looking for bodies.
Apart from all three churches being destroyed, Christian organisations such as ESA, Elkanah and the more recently established Mount Lodge have been destroyed. Within my own Fellowship (Mount Cathedral Baptist Church Buxton) an Elder, Rod Liesfield has lost his beloved wife and two sons. Dr. Ken Rowe of Wattle Park Assembly a frequent speaker at Buxton was also taken.
I was prepared for the fire, or so I thought! Hoses laid out, water filled buckets, mops at the ready for when the embers came! What did come was a black swirling cloud accompanied by a noise like the thrust of Jets about to take off! With much verbal persuasion I was able to get Yvonne into the car and we “took off” and within five to ten minutes, according to witnesses, our home had gone! We joined other residents fleeing the fire. According to one newspaper reporter it barely took thirty minutes for Marysville to go.
From the time we arrived in Alexandra at 6pm as evacuees, we have greatly appreciated the sacrificial work of all those involved in providing support, accommodation, meals, clothing everything. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, Police, DSE, Ambos, Volunteers and above all the Country Fire Service - they, are indeed heroes, along with the bulldozer drivers at the front line making firebreaks and access roads in some of the most rugged country.
That first night and the day following, smoke-filled Alexandra took on the role of a refugee camp. Separated families, friends, neighbours looking for each other; joys of reunions, sharing of experiences, tears of joy mixed with tears of sorrow for those who were lost. Feelings of ambivalence; sorrow for lost possessions, lost lives, joy to be alive and well, uncertainty concerning future accommodation, life and the necessities of life and living along with the certainty of our Hope in Christ and the Faithfulness of God who never leaves us or forsakes us. “My Grace is sufficient for you” is still as true for us as it was for Paul 2Cor.12:9 “for my strength is made perfect in weakness”.
Last Saturday 14th February residents were allowed back into Marysville to see firsthand their Town and what was left of our homes. We travelled by Bus under Police escort but were not allowed to leave the bus, use a phone or take a picture! The town is totally destroyed - no businesses, school, police station, church, post office or clinic, just rubble reminiscent of the Blitz which I remember as a youth in Liverpool, England. It took 3-4years of bombing to devastate Liverpool – Marysville, without bombs was devastated by fire within the hour, leaving many dead and a populous homeless.
Over these past days much has been said about the media and some have come in for criticism ; too intrusive, too insensitive, too selective, favouring one area over another. And as always competing with each other to get a “Great Story”, hence they seemed to concentrate on the spectacular, the horror, the emotions etc. We too spoke to the media and as a Pastor sought to assure them that as Christians we felt the pain, sorrow and awfulness of the situation we saw our Christian friends who had been taken not as being dead but having been “promoted to Glory”. While weeping with families and friends we were able to confirm them in their faith and their eternal Hope. Yes, we too have lost all, home and possessions but in answer to the reporters we witness with Job of old “the Lord has given and the Lord has taken, blessed be the name of The Lord”.
Please encourage people to pray for us all that we Christians will prove the reality of the Word of God and that as the people of God we will prove Isa.61: 1-3; This is after all THE GREATEST STORY.
In Haste and in His Name
Ivor Jones, pastor, Mount Cathedral Baptist Church, Buxton
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