Waroona-Yarloop - one year on: ‘There was nothing I could do’

Heartache: Ron and Nobuko Sackville say it's been one of the hardest years of their lives trying to deal with what happened. The couple had to give up their rental property after the fires and move into a small flat at the back of the post office because they couldn't afford rent. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.
Heartache: Ron and Nobuko Sackville say it's been one of the hardest years of their lives trying to deal with what happened. The couple had to give up their rental property after the fires and move into a small flat at the back of the post office because they couldn't afford rent. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.

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“It’s been probably one of the hardest years of my life trying to deal with what happened, not only with us but everyone who comes through the door with all their issues and problems they’ve had as a result of what happened,” Yarloop resident Ron Sackville said.

Volunteer firefighter, bowling club president and post office owner Ron Sackville had been keeping an eye on the fire before the blaze hit Yarloop the evening of January 7. 

He knew his rental property in the northern end of town neighboured 34 acres of very high, dead grass, which would easily burn and start a crown fire once the heat from the fire got close. 

He had been preparing to defend his property if necessary, wetting the house down with his fire hose, but from two o’clock that afternoon the water and power supplies to Yarloop had been cut.

“The water supply disappeared because the electricity was cut to the area, which they do to protect firefighters, but they turned off the water supply pumps to Yarloop,” he said.

As the fire finally hit Yarloop Mr Sackville saw the houses surrounding his property catch alight.

It was too late for him or his wife Nobuko to leave town, so he told her to fill the home’s bathtub and everything she could with water while he actively defended his property with the fire hose. 

He tried to keep the fire away from fences and trees, but as the fire started going down the paddock, Mr Sackville couldn’t stop it.

“It got around me and I just had to watch it take off down the paddock towards the houses in Yarloop, and there was nothing I could do,” he said.

About half past eleven that night, when Mr Sackville had put out smaller spot fires around his property, he decided to drive into town to check if the bowling club and the post office were still standing.

His description of his drive down Southwest Highway into town resembled that of a sci-fi movie.

Trees and red ash still burning covering the concrete; abandoned loaders in the middle of the road with their hazard lights still flashing, but no one to be seen as the houses along the highway kept burning down.

But it was when he arrived to Yarloop’s town centre that Mr Sackville realised the extent of the damage. 

The hospital, the hotel and the workshops were gone, together with most of the houses.

However, as he was fearing the worst, he saw that both his post office and the bowling club were still standing.

I just had to watch it take off down the paddock towards the houses in Yarloop, and there was nothing I could do.

Yarloop resident and volunteer firefighter Ron Sackville.

The days following the fires saw Mr Sackville set up the emergency centre at the bowling club, where he and other residents provided food, fuel and any other sort of assistance they could.

He also obtained passes for residents so they could get in and out of town in order to buy food and fuel for their generators, and opened the post office as quickly as he could to allow residents to get cash and other items.

He manged to bring family services back and arranged for GP Down South to visit the town once a fortnight for counselling services.

He said it’s been a very hard year for him and his wife, but the toughest hit was having to move out of the home they defended because they could no longer afford rent after the downturn of their business.

“I decided that we would start building a flat out the back [of the post office] which we’ve nearly finished now so that we can move down here and not have to worry about paying rent,” he said

“That’s where we’ve arrived at.”

He said their main problem was the lack of assistance through the government and the Lord Mayor’s fund, which only assisted residents and farmers but not small businesses.

He said they had to rely on private donations in order to stay afloat. 

“There’s a lot of grey areas with that sort of thing that I really believe they should sort out,” he said

“You are basically on your own.

“It’s caused us to do a lot of things that we never thought we’d have to do.”

However, Mr Sackville said he feels grateful for the help they received both for the post office and the bowling club, and he said he was happy to see new homes being built.

“Things are starting to get better,” he said.

“But it will be a long time before it gets back, if it ever gets back, to what it was.”

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