Woman from Moosomin evacuated from Kangaroo Island home

Australian bush fires threaten family’s home

January 14, 2020, 1:28 am
Kevin Weedmark

This was the scene last week from the Kangaroo Island farm home of former Moosominite Lois Kangas-Wilson as bush fires burned on a neighboring property. Lois and her family live on a farm where they and her husband’s family run a 3,000-sheep operation.

Two people have been killed and 56 homes have been destroyed in recent weeks by bush fires on Australia’s Kangaroo Island—fires that left one woman originally from Moosomin fleeing with her family as the blaze threatened their Kangaroo Island Home.

Lois Kangas-Wilson grew up in Moosomin and graduated from McNaughton High School in 1988. She is the daughter of Cynthia Griffin.

She now lives with her husband and three children on their sheep farm on Kangaroo Island and was evacuated twice from her home—once when fires came very near on January 3, and a second time on January 8, when she and the children evacuated to the nearest safe community while her husband and neighbors stayed back to try to save the house.

The World-Spectator spoke to Lois on January 8 as she arrived safely in Kingscote, a town on Kangaroo Island unaffected by the wildfires.

“It is really close to our property right now,” she said.

“On the third of January it was threatened by that fire but basically the wind changed and it missed our property, but on the island we live on at least 56 homes have been destroyed.”

While we spoke with Lois, her husband and others were back at the farm trying to save the house, which they managed to do.

“The fires have been very close, like within a few kilometers, but the sad thing is that today the fires are still continuing and the threat has increased for our property exponentially. My husband and his parents and two of our friends and my husband’s cousin are staying to defend our property. There is a really strong north wind and the temperature is expected to be 35 degrees and the north wind just comes off the main land so it just adds to the heat of the fire.

Lois and Scott Wilson, Nicole, Brayden and Jack at Vivonne Bay, Kangaroo Island, Australia. The family’s home was spared by wildfires that spread across the island, but there was smoke damage to the home. Lois is the daughter of Cynthia Griffin and grew up in Moosomin.

“We just evacuated about two hours ago. I’ve got three children and so we’re 45 minutes from our property at the moment.

ther on to another small community that has about 25 houses,” Lois said.

“Then there is another fire on the other side of the island that is still burning as well.”

Kangaroo Island is just off the Australian mainland near Adelaide. It has been one of the sites of fires that have devastated much of southeast Australia.

The fires started on the island last month.

“On Dec. 20 fires were started on the far northwest side of the island and three houses were lost then,” says Lois.

“On Dec. 30 there were more lightning strike fires in Flinders Chase Park. The National Parks and Fire Service tried to maintain the fire but on Jan. 3 we had another hot day and the fire broke containment lines and headed through the park destroying the remarkable rocks boardwalk, all the vegetation, the visitor centre, and three ranger stone houses.

“It then travelled down and destroyed the five-star resort Southern Ocean Lodge. From there it continued to other properties, nearly getting our property, but continued with a destructive path across the island, destroying 56 houses and over 100,000 sheep.

“Sadly two landowners perished in the bush fire attempting to return to their property after assisting a friend with a fire on his property.

“The fires have continued in several places on the island with our property being threatened for several days. My husband, with many landowners, have been fighting the fires along with CFS and mainland fire fighters as well as the Army reserve.

“Last night our home was threatened. My husband stayed to defend it with his cousin, two friends and his parents.

“When it became clear they would have to retreat, Scott made sure everything was doused for water.

“They escaped to his parents’ property but had to continue to escape the flames. They all made it to friends of ours, who had lost their home earlier, but their daughter and her family’s home was safe, so they all stayed there until the morning. This morning Scott has returned home and miraculously our home survived.

“It was full of smoke so Scott reckons it was very bad. We have lost half of our hay but the chickens survived. Scott is still assessing the damages on our property, but on first check we have lost 350 bales of hay, some fencing appears to have been lost. No sheep were lost and our horse survived. We are so happy that we have survived through this ordeal.”

While Lois and the children evacuated to the town of Kingscote, it still wasn’t safe.

“In the middle of the night alerts were sent out for areas around Kingscote, for everyone to go to Kingscote Oval or down by the water as a fire was threatening the airport. Thankfully it didn’t get real close to Kingscote. There has been a sense of panic with some people as some of these fires have been more intense than normal. It has been so hard for them to get these fires controlled because of the increased fuel load with dense trees throughout the island and very dry conditions making it harder than a regular bush fire season.

“It was a huge relief to have everyone safe and our house still standing. There has been an extra challenge as well, we have been without power since Jan. 3 and phone towers have been down most of the time.

“Kangaroo Island is a rural community but it also has a lot of tourism and so when the fire started on January 3 it damaged a very big national park it’s called Flinders Chase National Park.

Bush fires have devastated Australia’s Kangaroo Island and have claimed the lives of two landowners.

“My husband helped build the visitor centre that they had there 17 years ago and that was totally destroyed in the January 3 fire, as well as boardwalks and three houses for rangers from the January 3 fire. So this is really going to impact Kangaroo Island as far as the economy because then about 20 km from there, a five star resort, Southern Ocean Lodge—and my husband built the stone work there as well 11 years ago—that was completely destroyed as well.”

The family lives on a sheep farm adjoining Lois’ in-laws’ property in a rural area of Kangaroo Island. “We have a property of about 640 acres and my in-laws their property joins us and they have about 1,500 acres.

“This is the driest they’ve seen for an extremely long time and Scott’s parents are in their seventies and they’ve never seen a bush fire like this ever before. The conditions have changed. It’s a really natural habitat for kangaroos and koalas. We have a lot of scrub which is road side vegetation and that just adds to the fuel for the fire to get going.”

Lois said a lot of firefighters have been descending on the island from the mainland, and water bombers are also being used to battle the wildfires.

“They’ve got water bombers and there are lots of firefighters. More have come from the mainland last night. So we really have been getting resources from the mainland, but because there are so many spots battling fires it’s making it a bit difficult to have enough even with having extra from the mainland, and the mainland has been having fires as well, so it is limited to what we can get.

“They do have water bombers, but until January 3 I believe some of the water bombers had to be grounded because of the visibility. So there are a few things that have made it harder for them to fight the fire as well.”

So far all of the family’s neighbors appear to be safe.

“Everyone is being evacuated and there are a few neighbors that have water tanks on the back of their pickup trucks and they are staying to help defend against the fires,” she said.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Kangaroo Island recover. It raised $39,000 by Friday. It can be found at https://au.gofundme.com/f/mayors-bushfire-appeal-fund