Bushfire crisis: Faith is all that remains for two Yanchep survivors words

11 Sep 2020

By Amanda Murthy

Cecilia Vaz lost her family business of 35 years, the Yanchep Petrol and Service Station to the bushfire on 11 December Photo: Supplied.

By Amanda Murthy

Two Yanchep women in their 80s’ never imagined they would live to see their home and family business engulfed in fire, let alone in the span of just 15 minutes.

But that is exactly what happened to Cecilia Vaz and Iris Geneve when tragedy struck them and changed their lives forever on Friday, 11 December 2019.

Iris Geneve, 88 lost her home in the Yanchep Bushfire on 11 December 2019. This photo was taken a week before the incident. Photo: Supplied. Photo: Supplied.

Iris, 88 purchased the four acre property in 1969 and moved in with her late husband and four children. Shortly after, the Geneve’s were joined by the Vaz family, who would own the only other property in the peaceful neighbourhood as well as operate the Yanchep Petrol and Service Station next to Iris’ home for the next 35 years.

As time went by, both husbands passed away and the children grew older, eventually leaving home.

Iris, a former bus driver up until her 70s’, found great kinship in Cecilia, and the pair would spend time in the company of each other chatting or supporting each other with various tasks in life and around the home.

On the day of the bushfire, both women recall it being a ‘beautiful summers day.’ Cecilia had recently walked over to the service station where her three sons James, Sidney and Melwyn were working.

“Because our family was always in and out of the service station, and it was next to my house, most of my things were stored at the service station.
“At around 1:45pm, my sons and I saw an airplane going over the house, but the fires looked very distant.

“Within minutes, we realised it was moving extremely quickly and before you know it the Fire Brigade were at our door asking us to evacuate, I got into my sons car and we drove away to a distance as everything turned into ashes before our eyes.

“I describe the fires as though it was jumping – it completely wiped out Iris’ home and her surrounding property such as her orchard, but the fires somewhat missed my home and jumped to the service station located next to my home,” she added.

Cecilia left in a hurry, carrying nothing with her.

Along with the service station, Cecilia’s sons lost their six cars, personal documents, medication, personal memories, and above all, the place which her late husband Danny worked hard and spent most of his time up until his death.

Iris Geneve home after the bushfire that cost her home on 11 December. Photo: Supplied.

Iris who thankfully had her daughter visiting at the time of the incident, who was able to help her out of the home, grabbing only her two cats, one dog and her handbag.

“Honestly, both Cecilia and I did not realise the extent of the fires until the aftermath, we had faced occasions where we were told to evacuate but our property never got affected – this time was different,” Iris stated.

“I was devastated when I found out there was nothing left of my home, but what affected me most were the memories I had built with my family, I didn’t expect to lose the house in this way.

“However, I do believe that everything happens for a reason, all I can do is keep my faith strong, thank God for the good life I’ve lived for the past 50 years in that home, thank God that he kept Cecilia and I safe throughout this ordeal, and be grateful that my daughter Fiona has now welcomed me to her home.

“Shortly after the fires, Fiona was diagnosed with leukaemia, so being able to take care of my young grandson while she is in hospital, is my main focus for now.

“This tragedy also opened up my eyes like never before to see the goodness in my community, with their many calls and prayers.”

“This tragedy also opened my eyes like never before to see the goodness in my community, with their many calls and prayers – I appreciate all the kindness shown,” she added.

A parishioner of the Yanchep Pastoral area, Cecilia too is thankful for the help offered by her priest Fr Augustine Puthota PiC and the surrounding community, but the family will have to face a tough road ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and careers.

“Although my home was still in tack because the fire brigade managed to put off the fires in time, the house is not liveable and I don’t want to be alone, left with all the sad memories – So I now live with my eldest son James,” Cecilia said.

“My three sons and I are now unemployed, but like Iris, I have to see the silver-lining in this – we are alive, and unharmed, that we get to be with our families.

“I did get a chance to meet with Iris a few times after the fires, and we try to keep in touch – Often thanking God for saving our lives, and giving us more time to spend with our loved ones.

“Occasions such as birthdays (Iris’ birthday was on 24 February and Cecilia on 23 March), Christmas, Easters, New Years, will never be the same – but we have to accept what has happened, and ultimately thank God for never abandoning us,” Cecilia concluded.

From pages 12 to 13 of Issue 25: Crises and Trauma of The Record Magazine