Rebuilding after the Summer 2019/20 Bushfires

The Hospital Research Foundation - Published January 20th, 2021

The 2019/20 bushfires that ravaged parts of South Australia is not something people will soon forget.

During a time of need, Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA), part of The Hospital Research Foundation Group, was proud to provide a $200,000 grant to the Country Fire Service (CFS) Foundation to support our selfless CFS volunteers and their families who were impacted by the fires.

Kangaroo Island farmer and business owner of Kangaroo Island Fresh Garlic, Shane Leahy was one of the victims. The senior CFS volunteer opens up about that harrowing night where he lost almost everything.

“I spent two weeks fighting the initial blaze from 20 December 2019 in the Duncan, Middle River, which is northwest of the island. By early January, the situation was looking positive but that wasn’t to be – the weather was a mix of lightning and powerful winds which exacerbated the situation to another level.

“It was 3 January 2020 when the fires went through my place. I was with my brigade when I heard the fire had reach my town and my property, so I immediately drove there with a mate. Aside from losing my home, I feared I’d lost my two dogs, Sox and Lucy. Driving up to my property, everything was glowing red and that’s when I realised, I’d lost everything – I felt physically ill.

Miraculously my dogs and Lucy’s seven puppies had all survived the fire, and my garlic shed was untouched. The only reason it was still there was because we’d only just harvested the garlic crop two weeks before, so the soil was bare, which created a fire break that stopped the blaze from getting to the shed.

The months that followed were challenging. I suddenly found myself without a home, sleeping at the fire shelter and friends’ houses. One thing that helped me through was the generosity and kindness of people.

Army soldiers helped prepare my garlic for distribution which was over many days. A stranger drove all the way from Western Australia and allowed me to use his caravan as long as I needed and handed me an envelope with $1,000 which really got me choked up.

Within 24 hours of losing everything I received a phone call from the CFS Foundation. They told me they needed my bank details, and some money would be deposited to help out. The amount was quite considerate and instantly I knew I had some financial stability to get me through this awkward time.

I’m now living in a two-bedroom home with my dogs and I’m slowly but surely, like the rest of Kangaroo Island, rebuilding my life.”

MESHA is proud to have helped over 70 CFS volunteers and their families who were impacted whilst protecting their communities during the 2019/20 bushfires, including Shane.

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