Saturday 31 January 2015

Australian family forced to take shelter in sea as wildfires tear through Tasmania

John Hall

Published 09/01/2013 | 14:17

Photo provided by the Holmes family, the Walker siblings six-year-old Caleb, left, four-year-old Esther, second from left, nine-year-old Liam, and eleven-year-old Matilda, right, holding two-year-old Charlotte, prepare to enter the water to take refuge with their grandparents under a jetty as a wildfire rages nearby in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, Australia. Photo: AP
Tammy Holmes and her grandchildren take refuge under a jetty as a wildfire rages near-by in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley. Photo: AP
A building burns near a jetty where Tim and Tammy Holmes attempt to shelter their five grandchildren. Photo: AP

AN Australian family were forced to take shelter in the sea after wildfires tore through Tasmania, destroying their beach-side home.

Grandfather Tim Holmes and his wife saved their five grandchildren by sheltering them beneath a boat jetty as fire raged along the shore in Dunalley, south-eastern Tasmania.

The family clung to the wooden structure for three hours as the blaze crept closer, completely cutting them off from escape.

The children’s mother Bonnie Walker had left the group to attend a funeral, she told AuBC's Australia 7.30 show.

Ms Walker managed to drive through the blaze but firefighters closed the highway immediately behind her as fire in the area intensified.

She was told that her family had been evacuated from their homes, but that they were now ‘surrounded by fire’.

“I braced myself to lose my children and my parents,“ Ms Walker said.

As fire closed in on the family’s home, with smoke and ash filling the air, Bonnie Walker's father, Tim Holmes made a lifesaving decision to get his grandchildren to water.

“We saw tornadoes of fire just coming across towards us… There was no other escape we couldn't get off,” he said.

“We were relying on the jetty really. And the difficulty was, there was so much smoke and ember and there was only about probably two to three hundred millimetres of air above the water,” he added.

Mr Holmes went on: “So we were all just heads, water up to our chins, just trying to breathe because it was just, the atmosphere was so incredibly toxic.”

Photographs show Holmes' wife and his grandchildren huddling in sea water under the jetty as wildfires engulf the land behind them.

To finally escape Mr Holmes managed to find a dingy, load it with the children and then drag it against a headwind for around 300 metres to where the air was cleaner.

The children's father was hiking along the remote Tasmanian coast line at the time of the incident and was totally unaware of the danger his family were in.

The Australian state of Tasmania has been ravaged by fire over the last week, with over 100 buildings, including a local primary school, destroyed by wildfires.

Police are hopeful there has been no loss of life, but continue to search destroyed properties.

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