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Vic: Hell on earth hits Kinglake

By Greg Roberts
08 Feb 2009 9:50 PM

KINGLAKE, Vic, Feb 8 AAP - The end of the world reached the Victorian mountain town of Kinglake on Saturday, February 7.

Burnt out cars, many containing charred bodies, litter the road leading up to the town which now consists of a handful of still standing shops and hundreds of blackened piles of ash which used to be home to Kinglake's 1,500 residents.

As Victoria burnt on Saturday, a raging inferno raced through the state's central highlands, killing at least 71 people in the area, 12 in Kinglake itself and 10 in Kinglake West, leaving the once-idyllic community a charred ghost town.

Among the tragic stories to emerge from Kinglake were of a young boy and a girl burnt alive inside their home.

"The kids perished, their mother got out but she couldn't get the kids out," Kinglake resident Mary-Anne Mercuri told AAP.

Ms Mercuri also spoke of sisters in their 20s whose bodies were found in the front of their rented house.

"Two young girls around the corner from me were found in the front of their house. There's no way they could have got out. They would have tried to escape but there was nowhere to go."

The mother-of-three said that when the fire arrived it felt like exploding red burning bullets were being shot horizontally at them.

"These big burning chunks started falling from the sky, there was a lot of power behind them. I guess they were exploding parts of trees," Ms Mercuri said.

"We are lucky to be alive."

Her friend, Mandy Darkin, described the terrifying moment the fire arrived at Kinglake without warning.

"I was working at the local restaurant and we were all carrying on like nothing was going on but then word came that we should go home," the mother of five said.

"Soon after, I looked outside the window and said: `Whoa we are out of here, this is going to be bad'.

"I could see it coming. I just remember the blackness and you could hear it, it sounded like a train.

"I raced home in my car, straight into the driveway, placed all the kids in the house and within two minutes it was here and it was as dark as midnight at 4.30pm."

The 25km journey by road from Whittlesea to Kinglake is a cross between a trip into a war zone and a natural disaster zone.

The typical sunburnt landscape of southeast Australia gives way to a fire-burnt one with black scorched trees and earth.

Property after property is destroyed, burnt out cars line the side of the road, some sit stranded in the middle of the street, while a dead horse, carcass still smouldering, blocks the sporadic traffic.

The remains of two cars which collided head-on in their frantic bid to escape the blaze lie mangled on the road, and a five-car pile-up reveals the desperation of residents fleeing for their lives when the fire arrived.

It is believed six bodies were found in one car.

A media convoy being escorted to Kinglake was delayed at one stage as emergency crews removed another body from one of the burnt-out cars.