House untouched by fire: ‘Best phone call I’ve had in my life’

Fire burnt right up to the Deans’ house at Wondalga.

Alison Dean is beside herself with relief after her Wondalga home was saved by firefighters this week.

“I wish we knew who came out here, so we could thank them so much,” said an excited Mrs Dean.

“We were seriously preparing to buy a caravan.”

Mrs Dean and her husband, Darren, watched nervously as the fire map grew black across their property. With five out of their six children still living at home, and one child requiring a wheelchair, the thought of losing their house was gut-wrenching.

Mrs Dean said she’d resigned herself to the idea when she got a phone call from her brother.

“We were sitting on the floor in the house where we were staying in Wagga and discussing where we were going to live and what we were going to do,” says Dean. 

“My brother in Adelong called and drove up to the house, which was a very big, brave, bold move.

“He said, ‘I’m standing in front of your house.’

“I said, ‘Oh? What’s left of it?’

“He said, ‘You’ve got four walls and a roof.’

“That’s the best phone call I’ve ever had in my life. It’s amazing.”

Alison and Darren had spent days preparing their property, filling all available water containers, including the pool, and moving gas bottles and other flammables away from their home. Before leaving, Alison remembered some advice shared at a town meeting, which encouraged evacuees to leave notes for firefighters.

The couple grabbed two whiteboards from the kitchen and wrote out a list of their water sources, fire hazards and other useful information, including the fact that the entire family had evacuated on Thursday and would not be at the property.

The Deans say the fire consumed everything around their home, but “miraculously” didn’t leave a single singe mark on the home itself.

“It’s just beyond belief that we’ve still got a house. We’re walking around here now, up in our paddock, looking at the devastation,” says Alison.

“We don’t know if it went up over the house or around the house.

“The fire burned the whole retaining wall, we have pencil pines that are all burned. Literally, you could reach out with two arm’s length from the house and touch that pine tree and it’s just burned right to the top and there’s not a mark on the house.”

One of the last things the couple did before evacuating was to chainsaw down a small row of pines that were pressed up against the verandah, which Darren said would catch embers. He had also wanted to move the nearby trampoline away from the house and throw it over the fence and down the hill. Alison says she didn’t want to throw it down the hill, fearing the trampoline would be damaged. So it stayed.

The Deans left information for firefighters.

While the Deans made their preparations, Alison remembers watching their youngest child, 8-year-old Zoe, bouncing happily on the trampoline, with plumes of smoke billowing in the background.

“She was out there, oblivious to it all,” remembers Alison.

All that’s left of the trampoline now is a shell of metal pipes and melted plastic, a marker for how close the fire came to leaving the Deans homeless.

“When we got back, I told her, sorry Zoe, you won’t be jumping on the trampoline anymore!”

“But it’s like nothing else matters any more. We have a home.”