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Sally and Rob Seminara
Sally and Rob Seminara built their home 30 years ago doing all the work themselves except for plumbing and electrical jobs. Photo: Patricia Gill

Patricia Gill, Denmark Bulletin

Rob and Sally Seminara tell of how a ‘firey’, overcome with emotion, had wept while presenting them with a cake after the couple had returned to their burnt out house.

The show of emotion and gesture touched the hearts of the devastated couple whose home of 30 years at Parryville was razed overnight on February 4.

“He (the firey) asked if there was anything we needed and that he had our backs,” Sally said.

“It’s been humbling. The whole community has been so supportive.

“When you have been used to giving, you find it easy to give but hard to receive, even beautiful things like that.”

Their gratitude includes family, friends, the community, the Shire, DPAW and DFES personnel, the police and the bushfire brigades.

That Friday night, Rob stayed to defend the rammed-earth two-storey home the couple built over five years doing all the work except for the electrical and plumbing.

The couple now live in a holiday chalet on the property which was saved though a second chalet was damaged. They also built these two mud brick structures themselves.

The firey, who brought the cake, plans to provide manure so Sally can reestablish a vegetable garden and has lent a truck to remove fire-damaged roofing iron.

“All Rob’s mates have been lending things and coming over with big equipment,” she says.

“A friend has been doing our washing and cooking us meals.

“Somerset Bushfire Brigade spent a whole day cleaning up. One lady stayed until 6pm winding up wire.

“We’ve even had someone bring over rolls of turf to give us a lawn.”

On the afternoon of February 4 Sally and two of the couple’s daughters left the property for Walpole expecting Rob would join them soon.

Rob recalls how on waking that morning something had felt weird so he set to work filling firefighter tanks, checking pumps and preparing hoses.

Later in the day Sally, by then worried, sent him a video while he was attending his podiatry clinic in Denmark of the approaching fire.

Rob left for home, got as far as a roadblock at Sunrise Road, only to have to wind his way along inland roads via Koordabup Road.

Meanwhile Sally and the girls raked up leaves and sprayed down sheds and gardens.

On departing, Sally grabbed important documents for the family while the couple’s youngest daughter Lavinia, 13, packed a bag for herself and her sister, Tiana, 18.

Because Tiana was attending school she couldn’t get home so stayed elsewhere for the weekend.

“How do you pack a whole lifetime in a bag and even think about what clothes to pack?” Sally said.

“We’d spent the whole day defending our house so didn’t have time to think about our possessions.”

In the following hours Rob worked with two firefighting pumps on the roof of the house and the veranda.

“First of all it all went red and then the ember attacks started,” he said.

“I was running up and down, up and down, and thought the ember attacks would never stop.

“When finally it stopped there were little fires everywhere.”

After putting those out and a fire in a shed, Rob, exhausted, sat down for a moment only to see the roof of the house on fire.

By then both his firefighter pumps had ceased functioning, one had melted and the other seized, possibly due to no oxygen in the air.

“I had no water but luckily the kids had filled up buckets and containers,” Rob said.

After climbing up a ladder to unsuccessfully extinguish the fire, Rob climbed down and fetched another bucket.

Back on the roof, he slipped on the wet surface, bounced off the bullnose veranda roof, missed a retaining wall and, fortunately, landed softly in a garden.

“I lay there thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m all right’ but I’d cut my arm open though at the time I thought it was only a scratch,” Rob said.

He then sought the assistance of a firefighter truck to put out the fire on the ridge of the roof by which time, about 8.30pm, his family in Walpole were anxious about his safety.

Rob was found at the house with eyes full of soot and covered in scratches and blisters and taken to Denmark Hospital.

The cornea of his eyes was scorched and his lungs were filled with carbon monoxide and particles.

He was eventually airlifted to Royal Perth Hospital’s trauma unit where he spent four days after having his eyes treated at Albany Health Campus.

“After they irrigated my eyes to get all the stuff out I asked them what time it was,” Rob said.

“I couldn’t believe that it was 5am.”

During that night the wind had changed direction and the Seminaras’ house was burnt to the ground.

Rob says that in the event of another fire he would stay to defend his property.

For the past 30 years he has looked ‘down the valley’ to the thick bush and thought a fire from that direction, to the east, posed a threat.

Sally and Rob Seminara
Sally and Rob Seminara survey the ruins of their home, the contents of which are either reduced to ash or melted. Photo: Patricia Gill

Sally says the saddest part of the fire has been the loss of photographs particularly of their children, many of which were stored on a computer while earlier one were prints.

Also the loss of heirlooms passed down from grandparents and jewellery is a blow.

“But at the end of the day, you can’t take them with you and you have to just let go,” Sally says.

“The night before I came home I lay in bed and went through every room (in my head) and visualised everything we had owned.

“I tried to sit in gratitude and say thank you for everything we had.

“Then I let go and moved to another room, and another.

“Once I had been through the whole house I felt at peace.

“We spent a whole lifetime building this place and it’s a blessing the chalet was okay.

“A timber windchime wasn’t touched, not even the string, but everything else was either melted or reduced to ash.”

Denmark Bulletin 24 February 2022

This article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 24 February 2022.

Related story: Bushfire emergency – Spirit prevails in fire crisis

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