The Long Flat community have rallied around a family who lost pets and suffered trauma in the bushfires.
Darren and Liz Lovett lived on a property in Yarras with their four sons, Wyatt, Odin, Talon and Silas. The day the sky turned orange, November 8, was the beginning of the worst day of their lives.
Liz says they knew the fire was headed for them and they had prepared, loading water pods and the firefighter pump onto their truck, making sure gutters and rooftops were clean.
"We decided to soak a woollen blanket in water, but never expected we'd need it; that was really only a thought because we had one of our boys at home with us that day," explained Liz.
"He had a broken leg and wasn't able to go swimming with his school. The day got hotter and the wind gusts were fierce; being 10kms away from the bus stop and the mountain being one big tinder box, I decided after lunch to arrange care for our other three boys coming home on the bus, assuming we'd be able to collect them by dinnertime.
"Our amazing bus driver, Darren Hollis offered to keep them, and we are so grateful because what happened that afternoon was something I couldn't have imagined had I not lived through it.
"When the fire arrived, it only took minutes to wrap around us on all sides and the wind gave it such force, it was throwing fire from one side of the canopy to the other. Surrounded by gums well over 100ft tall, the flames were far above that.
"We grabbed our son and ran to an excavated area we planned to use as a last resort shelter with the blanket. We'd parked a tractor there with a water pod, and that is where we huddled with our son and dog for well over an hour, resoaking the blanket every few minutes.
"My husband stayed under for a short time but was desperate to rescue his truck which we had to abandon, so he continued to try and get back to it with just his shirt over his face.
"At that point, my fear was mostly for his life, having no way to help him whilst also staying to comfort our seven year old who was very afraid," she said.
"After about an hour he was able to get to the truck and by some miracle it was still running, all tyres still intact and the pump still working. Our son was calm enough at that stage that I could leave him with our dog under the blanket and help Darren put the most urgent fires out," recalled Liz.
"There were beams inside our home alight so we put those out first, and then whatever was most important outside and around the sheds. There was a lot that just had to be left to burn, or had already burnt."
Darren managed to save their lamb, Bonnie, but they lost all their chickens and their little goat that day.
"It was late that evening before the RFS arrived, there were just so many trees fallen along the road up and other neighbours and homes that needed checking. They had a look to be sure our home wasn't smouldering anywhere and then needed to be off again to help elsewhere.
"It will be a long time before things are really back to normal. Aside from the obvious desperate need for rain, we will be clearing fallen trees for months to come. Even six weeks on, we still have many smouldering stumps all around.
"We burned off a large part of our property last July, and yet the fire still ate absolutely everything. The loss of wildlife was devastating. Farmers affected have already struggled through one of the worst years of drought in many, many decades. And so many won't recover.
"In spite of our losses, this has not changed how we feel about the bush. We are grateful for our lives and the fact that we were able to save our home, and we are more determined than ever to keep going and rebuild what we lost. Everything we do will be with this event in mind.
"Our community, like many others, have been so supportive of one another and we are so lucky to have these people to call friends and neighbours. This whole ordeal has been bearable largely because of that.
"Our hope is that once the dust settles, our government sees the need for regular and responsible land management, to ensure nothing on this scale can happen again," she added.
When the Long Flat Preschool heard about the family's loss, they wanted to bring a smile to the boys' faces, especially Silas who goes there. Educator Caitlin searched for a goat, and Silas was delighted with his new friend, and cuddled and kissed him, said Michelle Partridge, who runs the preschool.
The school families and the Long Flat community also made Silas's Christmas wish for a new bike come true, raising $250, including a $50 voucher from Graham Seers Cyclery.
"It is great to see small communities coming together to help each other," she said.
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