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When the news hits close to home – Selina’s brush with bushfires burning in the Granite Belt

The remains: The aftermath of the blaze that hit the Stanthorpe region. Photo: Facebook/Gail Paulsen

WHEN the news becomes personal, it’s a whole other level of journalism. 

When understanding directions of staying within the home, with ominous warnings of “leaving”, it’s a whole other level of fear. 

When the elderly couple ordinarily occupying a nearby pew at the Saturday Vigil Mass are mentioned on news reports, it’s a whole other level of despair. 

Those were our scenarios across an otherwise unassuming Friday in Stanthorpe parish, on Queensland’s Granite Belt, on September 6 and beyond. 

Yes, there were warnings and, yes, our town is in drought but no one could have imagined the emotions and reality of what would come to pass. 

By the time you’re reading this, that imminent danger has well and truly passed and the destructive nature of the inferno we were warned about at 5.30pm and that violently held all to account an hour later, is itself a charred shell. 

In the almost seven years of living in this glorious part of the world, never have we been more vulnerable than we were on that Friday.

What was there to do, amid the fear, disbelief and despair? 

The bravest of the brave were unwaveringly meeting the inferno head-on, and their heroic tales are the real story here. 

Others scrambled to restore power to thousands of homes within the Stanthorpe township and on its fringes, as we all witnessed the deathly red-glow of the mountainside and surrounds we’d come to love and admire daily. 

So many had already left their normally comfortable abode to seek the comfort of the arms of the volunteers and organisations offering relief. 

Much of the activity we could only imagine from our dimly-lit dining room table on September 7, as some reports of despairing animals and property taken, filtered in. 

Our teenage girls were scrambling for all they could to know of their friends and school. 

Their brother, aged 6, held his rosary beads in wonder of how this despairingly different Friday night would unfold. 

The Rosary was our comfort and the answer of what to do with the offering to, “Save us from the fires of hell” swallowed trustingly.

What an unusual feeling it was to move into restless sleep routines unaware of dawning realities but lulled by faith-filled trust.  

Reports the following day were that up to 10 houses were lost in Friday’s inferno. 

On September 7, winds and risk was ever present with an eventual surveillance of some of the damage although we were almost too scared to look. 

This was our town, our peace of paradise, already so drained of life from years of drought. 

And then, Alan Bourzali clutching at two remaining crockery pieces, was on the evening news. 

That moment was when the damage became real and personal. 

From within our home, the destruction could only have been imagined but there was Mr Bourzali, of French descent and having called Australia home, with his wife Agnes, for almost five decades, downcast as he considered the charred remains of their beloved home of 32 years. 

We had seen him at the shops two days earlier. 

Now, he moved, with reporter in tow, through the debris with alarming 80-year-old caution and heartbreak. 

There was, however, a sense of stoic embodiment of faith as he did, hopefully seen by the community too as the glimmer of hope needed. 

The community had responded by rallying in every way during the hours and days following, again, the real story here. 

Southern Downs Regional Mayor Tracy Dobie said she was “struck” by the generous spirit evident at community meetings, in the wake of the infernos and within the well-armoured “community hub” offering practical assistance. 

“Everybody’s a foot taller,” she said of the efforts of so many volunteers. 

“People have stood up here and done some remarkable things. The region has much to be proud of.” 

Mayor Dobie was ever-conscious of the water taken from Storm King Dam to fight the blazes at Applethorpe on September 6 and Ballandean on September 9 particularly, knowing all too well of council’s 100-litre per day, per person, stipulation. 

“It’s been three years of the worst drought on record for our region,” she said. 

“People have been trying to make their water last … (but) one of the things I’m noticing is how much things have dried out. 

“You say to yourself, ‘How can it possibly get any dryer?’ and it has.

“No humidity in the air contributed to those catastrophic conditions on Friday night.” 

Mayor Dobie said while “people are very low” they’re also “pretty tough”. 

The Bourzalis aren’t the only ones, a Stanthorpe State High School teacher led news crews through her property on September 9, grateful the house was saved by the insistent help of a neighbour. 

Yet another family featured in the news was appreciative to still embrace each other. 

The Granite Belt will survive. She will be back, brighter, tastier and fruitier than ever. 

We will need time, however, and for you to keep visiting.

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