Since bushfires engulfed East Gippsland, it’s fair to say the Ensay community has dodged a few bullets.
While the fires have menaced the landscape surrounding the tiny township, Ensay itself has escaped unscathed.
Local mechanic, Colin Bailey, who has lived in Ensay his entire 65 years, admits he was surprised the bushfires, which began impacting the area during November/December, left the town untouched.
“We’ve had some scary moments on those days with only a couple of us in the street,” Mr Bailey said.
The Advertiser observed Mr Bailey nervously looking out to the Angora Ranges in mid December as fires tore through the dry bushland.
“The day the Angora was going it was dark at two o’clock in the afternoon. I had to have the lights on in the house, you couldn’t see anything outside. I didn’t know where the fire was,” Mr Bailey said.
Mr Bailey says as it turned out a fire at the back of his property posed more of a threat to his home than the Angora Ranges fire.
“It could have been a lot worse that’s for sure,” he said.
“Most of the town’s residents bolted. They obviously thought we’d be hit.
“That day was a bit worrying,” Mr Bailey said, reflecting on the close call.
He says the recent fires were “the third bad fires I’ve experienced in 30 years”.
Choosing to stay and defend his business and property, he admits to being “not much use to the CFA”.
“I busted my legs in a car accident many years ago so they aren’t too good,” he said.
Ensay CFA Captain, Geoff Adams, is 67 years old and fought his first fire at the age of 18.
He concurs that Ensay was lucky not to have been impacted by the bushfires.
“It was pretty hairy for a while,” Cpt Adams said.
While no houses were lost in Ensay, the home of local artist, Robert Logie, was destroyed by fire at nearby Reedy Flat on December 30.
Cpt Adams said the fire threat to Ensay was very real.
“There were a couple of days when it could have got there,” he said.
“We had fire on four sides of Ensay at one stage,” Cpt Adams said.
He said the Vic Emergency App indicated an evacuation warning for Ensay “about 20 times”.
“That needs addressing somewhere along the line. All it does is get the elderly upset,” Cpt said.
Cpt Adams is concerned the app could also foster a level of complacency if people constantly see a warning to evacuate, yet aren’t impacted by fire.
He praised local farmers, who as a group “were instrumental in putting fires out with spray units and water tankers”.
The group of 20 had rallied together to extinguish fires once they got into paddocks.
Cpt Adams said the last time Ensay came under threat of fire was during 2006/07 when the Tambo Crossing was burnt out.
Sandra Stanton lives in the community.
“Ensay has been lucky in a way,” she said.
Ms Stanton runs the Ensay Post Office and has witnessed firsthand the impact the threat of fires has had on people.
She said “not being able to see because of the smoke” had created some anxiousness.
Ms Stanton recalled “driving around at night time so we could see where the fire was”.
“The horses were frightened, they could smell the smoke but couldn’t see anything,” she said.
Roslyn Mudge walks into the post office while the Advertiser is there and recalls taking her dogs for a walk and seeing flames crawling along the gully.
“That was a bit scary,” she said.
The former school principal lives on 300 acres in Reedy Flat Road, usually stocked with sheep and cattle.
“We sold off the cows a bit earlier that we couldn’t get through the drought, leaving just the sheep to feed.
Ms Mudge said sheep “were running around like mad dogs” during the fires.
The Mudge’s farm is nestled between Mt Wong and Mt Elizabeth. “We sat on the hill below Mt Wong and watched the fire,” Ms Mudge said. She says while the fires spared Ensay, the community has been ruffled by the ongoing threat.
The closure of the Great Alpine Road halted the delivery of mail leading people to take to social media.
Ms Stanton has been scrolling posts on the local community page and answering queries where appropriate.
“Someone enquired if the Ensay Cemetery was okay because they have family there,” she said.
Dave Cann is getting on in years and sits on a chair outside the post office clutching his walking stick tightly.
He lives close to the Little River Inn in Ensay.
Just prior to the fires, he was hospitalised for dehydration.
As the fires took off, his daughter drove into town and whisked him away from Ensay.
“I was kidnapped to Melbourne,” he said.
Mr Cann blamed “those greenie bastards” for hampering efforts to reduce the fuel load in forests.
The Ensay community is in unison in wanting to see a sense of normalcy returned to the town.
Colin Bailey says his mechanic business survives on locals and he hopes “things return to normal”.
“It’s not all over yet, we still have a bit of warmer weather to get through,” he said.
Mr Bailey hooked up the boat to his car earlier this week and set off on a much needed fishing holiday in Marlo.
IMAGE: Local Ensay residents, Dave Cann, Roslyn Mudge and Sandra Stanton, share a much needed laugh on the steps of the post office. K112-4590