"What I learnt from losing everything in a bushfire".

As temperatures soared and fire danger hit extreme, I spent the weekend with my 18-month old son in the safety of Melbourne’s concrete jungle – well away from our home in the Macedon Ranges, 60-kilometres north of the city.

It was hot, dry, windy and almost felt like everyone was waiting for something bad to happen. It did.

Over the weekend, fires in the Adelaide Hills destroyed at least 12 homes (and most likely dozens more), and killed thousands of animals across South Australia and Victoria.

 Bush fires burning dangerously close to livestock.

It’s devastating for the residents who were made instantly homeless, waking today with little more than the clothes on their backs. And for farmers who lost their livelihoods and the animals they spent their lifetimes looking after.

And it took me right back there.

To February 10, last year – the day my husband Scott and I lost our home and a hundred of our sheep in the 2014 Victorian fires.

We had left early the day before, even before any fires had started, after hearing conditions were to be the worst since Black Saturday. But when news came of fires in our area, Scott (who is a member of our local CFA) went home to get our three dogs and move our 300 sheep to safety.

By the time he got there, fire authorities issued an emergency warning: “It’s too late to leave”.

Townships issued an emergency warning from the CFA.

I started shaking when I recently re-read my frenzied text messages to my husband that day. And the moment I realised he planned to spend the night at our neighbour’s house, waiting for the fire-front to pass through.

The moment I realised I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

ME, 7:00pm: I’m scared. I love you.

ME, 7.00pm: Please tell me what you’re going to do.

ME, 7.00pm: I love you with all of my heart and soul. More than you could know. You are Louie’s hero, my hero. I need you by my side. Please please please stay safe xx

The next message I received was a photo of the hills on our property bursting into flames.

Then a phone call to say he was fleeing to the nearest town in the car with our dogs. He sounded scared. I hadn’t heard him like that before.

While he was making that terrifying 8-minute journey, I was pacing and chanting over and over: “I don’t care about the house, just let Scott be safe”.

And Scott was safe. We lost the house.

‘It’s just a house.’

I’ve heard this a lot since then.

It comes from people who mean well. And I get the subtext: it could have been a lot worse.

I know.

But, still, it wasn’t just a house. It was a home.


Our home.

Homes destroyed in South Australia.

The home where Scott proposed to me, on the deck overlooking our farm.

The home where we were married – with a paddock for a wedding aisle and our lounge room the rustic reception venue.

Scott and Liz on their wedding day.

The home filled with a lifetime of carefully selected treasures, each holding a memory and telling a story about our lives.

An Alpaca wool beanie, lovingly (and painstakingly) knitted by my mum over the 9 months she awaited the birth of her first grandchild.

My wedding dress. My nana’s diamond rings. Baby photos of my dad, who passed away ten years ago.

All gone.

“The only thing we did recover from the rubble was Scott’s wedding present to me – a brass bell engraved with the words: ‘Ring my bell today and ever after.’ A poignant reminder of what’s really important.”

Too many times I’ve thought about the decisions we made that day. The decisions that ultimately led us to losing everything – but that also meant we came away with our lives.

We had always said our fire plan was to leave early. And we had left early – but before the threat of fire was real to us. We hadn’t taken into consideration our pets, animals or personal possessions. These decisions, made in the heat of the moment, can mean the difference between life and death.

In the last few years, fire authorities have moved away from the slogan of “stay defend or go”, following recommendations from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, after people perished trying to defend their homes on Black Saturday.

Over the weekend, the hashtag #leaveandlive flooded social media. Launched at the start of the fire season by the Victorian government, it’s hoped to deter the ‘wait-and-see’ approach, where people make last-minute decisions that can end in tragedy.

Leave and Live campaign on Twitter.

For us, leaving early now means leaving for the city with our pets well before a fire even starts. And when our home is re-built, we’ll also be better prepared to defend as a last resort – in case, for whatever reason, we can’t leave early.

I think the Leave and Live campaign is powerful in its simplicity and has the potential to save lives. But those living in fire-prone areas still need to have a detailed fire plan (that includes pets and animals). Because leaving early isn’t a plan – it’s an option.

And while nobody wants to have to choose between risking your life to save your home or risking your home to save your life, for the families left homeless in these latest devastating fires, deciding to leave has meant they’ve saved the most important things of all, each other.


Liz is a TV producer and mum who lives in the Macedon Ranges in Victoria with her husband, finance expert, Scott Pape, who is also known as The Barefoot Investor.