“We’re preparing for the fight of our lives,” Clare Morgan said. “It’s like Luna Park around here, we’ve got that many water tanks, trucks and generators ready to go.”
Ms Morgan’s daughter Abbey, 11, has filled more than 150 buckets with water and placed them strategically around the house.
Some are positioned next to the chook pen, others near patches of dry farmland where the family are keeping their two ponies, two bulls and a flock of more than 200 sheep.
Garbage bins overflowing with water have been wheeled next to an old fire truck.
“We have thought about leaving, but we want to stay and try and save the house if we can,” Ms Morgan said. “All our most-treasured memories are here. You can’t buy those memories back.”
Ms Morgan and her husband Wayne have spent weeks preparing for the catastrophic fire conditions and have vowed to defend their neighbours’ homes too if they can.
Flames came precariously close to their home on Monday night as fires surrounded Bruthen.
“It sounded like a freight train, like a big jet coming right towards us,” Mr Morgan said. “We were able to fight off the flames and save the shed, but it was a bit touch and go for a moment there.”
They have kept the grass wet and green and mowed it back. Ms Morgan was cutting back trees two weeks ago and chipped her tooth with a piece of wood. But there’s been no time to go to the dentist.
“The tooth can be fixed,” she said. “Our home can’t be if its destroyed. We’ve had too much to do.”
Their son Angus, 25, has been busy, too. He spent weeks helping people in the Bruthen community prepare their homes. In the past few days he stayed and helped residents defend their homes. Some locals with nowhere to go will be sheltering in a shed Angus owns in Bairnsdale, while he stays and helps defend his parents’ home and his own house next door.
“A lot of people out here can’t afford to stay in accommodation in town,” Ms Morgan said. “So they’ve been forced to go to the relief centres. We helped our 83-year-old neighbour Iris hose down her house and she’s had to leave too even though she wanted to try and stay and defend.”
The land in View Street has been in Ms Morgan’s family for years. Her father fought a fire which roared down the same hill in 1965.
“I think my family ties to the land make me want to stay and at least try and fight it,” she said.
In the back shed, she keeps her most treasure possessions, her father’s family photos and his nine axes.
When fire bears down on View Street in the early hours of Saturday morning the family are acutely aware the town’s supply of water will quickly run out. They have seven tanks filled with about 35,000 litres of water ready to battle the blaze.
Authorities predict the flames will be fanned by northerly winds of up to 50km/h. But the danger will really set in at 5am with a sharp and dangerous wind change.
If it all gets too much, the cars in the driveway are packed and ready to go.
“If the house really starts to burn and it’s looking really hairy then we’ll jump in our cars and drive into town,” she said. “There is no real telling what these fires will do. They tend to have a mind of their own.”
About four hours north, near the NSW border, Cudgewa graziers Colin and Michele Briggs have decided to stay put on their farm despite the mass evacuation of their region for a simple reason; there is nothing left for fire to burn.
Colin Briggs, who has been a CFA volunteer for more than 30 years, said Monday night’s firestorm had torn through the community of Cudgewa with an intensity he had never seen in a bushfire.
“The fires we usually get, they back off at night and you can do something with them,’’ he said. “These fires the other night burned harder than I have ever seen fires burn in the daytime.
“It was something out of this world I tell you. I stood about 3 kilometres, 4 kilometres back from the Cudgewa football ground on our boundary waiting for it to come. It just sounded like a couple of jumbo jets roaring over the hill at us. It was like that all night. You just had no hope of stopping it.”
Michele Briggs provided photographs of the fire’s approach and its blackened aftermath.
Despite the ferocity of the fire, the couple managed to save most of their Angus beef herd and some fodder to feed them with until the crisis abates.
Asked whether she was planning to evacuate ahead of Saturday’s potentially catastrophic fire conditions, Ms Briggs said there was no reason to.
“We are not going anywhere. We are burnt out. There is nothing that can burn, nothing at all. There is nothing that can burn in the Cudgewa area.”
With Chip Le Grand
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.