Northcliffe fire recovery: town is re-open for business

Out of the fire-ing line and into the future.

A South West town came perilously close to destruction in February this year when one of the state’s worst bushfires threatened homes and lives in Northcliffe.

Four months on from the fire Digital Journalist Andrew Elstermann and photographer Ashley Pearce headed south to tell the story of the town’s lucky escape and find out what they learned from the experience.

NORTHCLIFFE is open for business.

This is the message from general store owner Graham Munro several months after a devastating bushfire came perilously close to wiping the small farming town off the map.

“Life has now returned to normal and we want those that like to visit the South West to know that there is still plenty for them to enjoy down here,” he said.

However, four months ago life was anything but normal in Northcliffe.

WATCH: See how Northcliffe is recovering. 

Three days after a lightning strike sparked a bushfire in the Shannon National Park residents were ordered to evacuate and told their town could not be saved.

“As you looked out at the sky at night the sky was red and there was constant ash falling like it was snowing,” Mr Munro recollected.

“The people with young children and no reason to be here left however the farmers, who were very well equipped to defend themselves, stayed.”

Mr Munro said a number of local farmers had grown up fighting fires and knew what they were doing.

Northcliffe General Store owner Graham Munro said life has returned to normal in the South West town. Photo: Ashley Pearce.

Northcliffe General Store owner Graham Munro said life has returned to normal in the South West town. Photo: Ashley Pearce.

As the blaze wore on, the general store became a hub for those still in town to get supplies and information on how the fire fighting effort was progressing.

“There was a large map at the front of the store and each night the fire captain Rod Parkes would come and shade in the part that were burnt,” Mr Munro said.

Mr Munro praised the efforts of fire fighters for protecting the town however he said there were lessons to be learnt from the experience.

“If you decide to stay [to defend your property] you should be regarded as a fire fighter and allowed to go where you need to,” he said.

“Fire trucks were being stopped at road blocks because they did not have the right permits – common sense has to prevail.”

Local knowledge was another resource that was under-utilised by visiting fire fighters, according to Mr Munro.

“The local guys who knew where everything was and knew where you could get water from were sidelined – they were told what would be done,” he said.

“If a town develops its own fire fighting program and asks for help, it should get sent fire fighters who say “what do we need to do?”.

“Don’t send us a pre-made plan that says this is what we are going to do here.”

Despite these issues, Mr Munro said things were positive in the town and everyone has their doors open once more.

“It is great to see things returning to how they were before,” he said.