“Australian Saints Protected, Give Aid During Fires,” Ensign, Mar. 1994, 75
Church members offered assistance and shared miraculous stories in the wake of more than one hundred bushfires that raged for over a week in the Sydney, Australia, area and destroyed almost 1.5 million acres, damaged or destroyed approximately three hundred homes, and killed four people, one of them the son of a Church member.
Robert Page, a volunteer fireman and the son of Kath Page, a member of the Sydney Australia Parramatta Stake, was killed instantly when a tree fell on his fire truck.
By mid-January, most of the fires were contained. Reports indicated that no Church property was damaged, although the Sydney Australia Temple and Pacific Area offices were less than five miles from one of the first bushfire sites. One Latter-day Saint family lost a home. Many members were evacuated from their homes, and several lived through frightening, inspiring experiences.
A wall of fire jumped over the home of Michael and Freda Davis and their six children, members of the Sydney Australia Mortdale Stake. The Davises, who live in the bushland in one of Sydney’s south suburbs, watched the fire develop some distance away. “Then, with no warning, the fire reached the gully on the other side of our back fence,” recalled Brother Davis, second counselor in the stake presidency. Within two minutes, the fire was in the family’s back garden.
While Sister Davis and her children ran through the house to the front yard, Brother Davis and another Church member, Geoff Ireland, stayed behind to battle the blaze. “In just a few moments, I saw the flames literally jump over the house and begin to burn the bush in our front yard,” said Sister Davis. The Davises were unhurt, and they are grateful their house is still standing.
Another member who experienced a close call was Daniel Hamilton, president of the Sydney Australia Greenwich Stake. Brother Hamilton’s wife and children had gone to stay with Brent and Elizabeth Young, also members of the Church, while ward members battled the fire from block to block. “We fought the bushfire for hours and hours and days and days,” reported Brother Hamilton. The Hamiltons’ home was saved; but the Youngs’ home, after being evacuated, was attacked by a firestorm. In an experience similar to that of the Davis family, the Youngs’ home was left completely intact.
Members were quick to respond to requests for help. The five stakes in Sydney donated clothing to the St. Vincent De Paul Society, a Catholic service organization. Several wards helped in preparing food for approximately three thousand firemen. The request for assistance came as a direct result of years of fostering relationships with local community organizations, including those involved in the disaster relief. Leaders of the Mortdale stake quickly offered assistance to members of the Como Presbyterian Church, who lost their church building at the height of a bushfire in Sutherland.
“We have been proud of the resilience of our Church members and their willingness to help each other and assist in the general community,” stated Elder Rulon G. Craven of the Seventy, Pacific Area president. “One family, the Cashmans of the Gosford Ward in the Newcastle stake, had been evacuated first from their own home and then from another location as well. Yet they still found the time to go down to the Gosford Youth Club and serve food and refreshments to those in need.”
Elder Craven said that local Church leaders hope to use the bushfire experiences to open up further communication with service and relief agencies so that in future emergencies these agencies will know that Church members are eager to help in any capacity.—Alan Wakeley, Pacific Area director of public affairs