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Perce Jordan


On February 16, the elderly Perce Jordan was writing at his desk in the coolest part of his house when the power cut out. Unfazed, he took his hearing aid off and went for a nap. The police came to his door with an evacuation warning but failed to rouse him. There followed a harrowing escape from the fire to Fairhaven beach, from where he watched his house burn.

For Perce, Ash Wednesday was the end of his time in Fairhaven. He was forced to move to a retirement village. A month after the fire he wrote this letter to friends and neighbours.

Greenways Retirement Village,
330-356 Frankston-Dandenong Road, SEAFORD SOUTH. Vic. 3198.
16th March, 1983.

Dear Alan & Dorothy,

I am still being asked about my experience of the fire on February 16th. For those who had not seen my house at Fairhaven, lengthways it faced south overlooking the ocean and the rolling surf. To the south-west and west lay Lorne backed by the Otway Ranges. Practically the whole south wall was plate glass from floor to ceiling. The upper floor on which I lived was at ground level to the north, while the lower section (planned for visitors) was at ground level to the south. On February 16th, I was in the coolest lower room writing when the power failed, so I put an air mattress on the floor, placed my glasses with hearing aid on a chair and went to sleep. I understand the Police came to my front door with their evacuation warning but failed to rouse me. Later, two girls holidaying in a house to the north noticed no movement at my place. They also had difficulty in rousing me but eventually succeeded. In a previous fire 18 months ago, clouds of billowing smoke and some flames were visible. Fire brigades and firemen were numerous and after evacuating with a few things I returned about 3 hours later to replace them.

This time there were no firemen or flames or billowing smoke, only a hazy cloud of smoke high overhead. Against the possibility of a stray spark I hosed the scrub on either side of the house. Later I reluctantly put two suits and some business papers in my car. On a second visit to my car I looked out from my garage and the wind was like a tornado. Sheets of galvanised iron and pieces of timber were flying through the air about 80 feet up. About 8 houses were unroofed and one garage was flattened. That meant it was time to go. It was about 7.00 p.m. I quickly collected a few more clothes, some pills and a camera. Still no fire, but the west wind was fierce. I had a winding route out and on the way passing under some fallen power lines, I felt the car was likely to overturn, so I turned directly down the side slope to a drive and then back to the road. At the Great Ocean Road I turned east to Aireys Inlet and soon found that coming from the west, the fire had by-passed Fairhaven at first and had gone along a gully to the north. Aireys Inlet was already ablaze and a wall of flame crossed the Great Ocean Road. I turned my car around and flying debris shattered my windscreen and one headlight, but no scratches on the car. I returned west to a paved boat ramp but forgot to note where the paving ended and was soon stuck in the sand but well out of reach of any fire. By then fire had started to destroy several houses. There were no other people on this section of the beach, the tide was well out and I decided to walk westerly. At times I could not force myself against the wind, my mouth was dry and the wind-blown sand was stinging. Soon my hair and clothes seemed full of sand. I eventually arrived at a track that led up to the Great Ocean Road where I was sheltered from the sand.

At times I was about 50 feet from flames but in no danger. Some fire had burned scrub between the road and my house but my house was still intact. Other fire burning slowly from the east and against the wind reached into a deep gully alongside my house and a sheet of flame suddenly shot up the side of the gully, hit the east side of my house and rose about 20 feet above the roof but the house did not ignite. Then I noticed two houses burning in a large fire about 200 yards west. With a very strong westerly still blowing this fire took house by house and eventually the house next to mine. It was only about 40 feet away but flames from it were 60 to 70 feet long and my house could not withstand that. By then it was close to 10 p.m. and I had seen more than 30 houses burn.

The flames that had blocked my way previously should have abated by this time so I set out to walk to Aireys Inlet. Eventually a fire brigade truck picked me up but before returning to Aireys Inlet had to return along the Great Ocean Road to check on conditions generally so once again I passed and re-passed my house still burning brilliantly. So three others that night saw the remains of what I had been watching all the evening.

I, with about 12 or 15 others spent the night in a brick house from which we saw several other houses burning. There was no power or water pressure in the house but eventually a mug of hot tea and someone to wipe the sand and ash out of my eyes, was very welcome. During the early hours of the next morning (my birthday) I managed a few hours sleep. At 7 a.m. I met a fireman friend who had a tow rope. His mate had a four-wheel drive vehicle and together they hauled my car back on to the road. Before leaving I returned to my site where two small fires were still burning in the ruins. Except for a minimum of clothes and some papers all I had was destroyed. A large T.V., grandfather clock, my own furniture and my Mother’s furniture which was over 90 years old. Also all my photos, slides, books, music, etc. etc. Most houses at Fairhaven were holiday homes but 181 houses (nearly 90%) were burnt at Fairhaven and one man died, while at Aireys Inlet 218 houses were burnt and one man died.

I left Fairhaven for Anglesea and for 95% of that journey I saw desolation and ruin. 127 houses were burnt at Anglesea. A fire brigade was still at work north of Anglesea. Both the church at Belmont and the Brotherhood Centre in La Trobe Street, Melbourne, gave me splendid assistance.

I plan to live at the above address where I will lease a Hostel Unit consisting of a bedroom furnished with the necessities together with a well appointed motel-type shower room. Now others will be looking after me. The main thing I miss is the magnificient view that I had at Fairhaven. This story is possibly too long, yet much detail has been omitted. Obviously it was an experience that I do not wish to repeat.

Yours sincerely,

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