By Jessica Anstice
Seven homes were destroyed and several others were severely damaged in Narre Warren South on Black Saturday, 10 years ago.
Many residents living in Narre Warren South were unaware that such an immense fire was about to descend on their town, including the Miszkowiec family.
“Moments earlier we had been watching TV distressed about the Wallan fire and how sad it was,” Carol Miszkowiec said.
“Then everything started to unfold as we too, were now on fire.”
On that day, Mrs Miszkowiec recalls feeling total fear, panic and an overwhelming sadness.
The fire completely demolished the Miszkowiec family home.
Prior to the fire approaching, Andrew Miszkowiec noticed a car driving up and down their street, honking its horn.
Mr Miszkowiec exited the home, curious as to whom it was. He smelt the smoke.
“In our house, the air-conditioning was on and we were oblivious as to what was about to unfold,” Mrs Miszkowiec said.
“Our grandson was playing in his room when the back wall of the house was on fire and we knew we had to get out of the house. We were yelling for the others to get out too.
Mrs Miszkowiec was looking for their pet cat, which was instinctively hiding.
“I had to pull him out from under a bed. In doing so, I dislocated his leg,” she said.
“He then got put across the road in a neighbour’s house. Everyone else in the family was out.”
As soon as the family saw the back curtains on fire, they evacuated the house.
“Andrew got the keys to get the car out the garage and our eldest son, Rodney, grabbed his two year old son Jackson,” she said.
“Andrew made me take the car with Jackson and I went to one of our daughters’ houses to get the baby away from all the mayhem while Andrew and Rodney stayed to help fight the fires along with others.”
Within a matter of minutes, their home was engulfed in flames and burnt to the ground.
“Not a single item did we have to our name, except for the clothes on our backs. Not even shoes,” Mrs Miszkowiec said.
“Our life was gone. Only ashes left.”
Mrs Miszkowiec said the immediate days that followed were “sleepless nights and constant breakdowns”.
“There was an overwhelming fear of helplessness,” she said.
“The unknown of what awaits in the future, the prospect of starting a whole new life with not a scrap or remnant from the past, nowhere to live and nowhere to belong, including every piece of our identities was gone to the extent Andrew was told he is a non-citizen of this country he was classed as an alien.
“We had no access to any bank accounts etc. Overall it was horrendous to try to begin putting some normality back into our lives.”
Mrs Miszkowiec said, “The only bright star in the horizon was the constant support and love from family and friends and in days to follow, strangers.”
Alike many residents of Narre Warren South, the Miszkowiec family did not have a fire plan.
“We really didn’t think suburbia would burn like it did that day,” she said.
“Had the grass out the back underneath the powerlines been maintained, the results would have been different with no over-grown grass to fuel the fire.”
Mr and Mrs Miszkowiec became close friends with their neighbours following the incident.
“While our neighbours didn’t lose their house, the smoke damage was horrible and every day after they had to wake up to the sight of burnt carnage and the smell of wet ashes which was disgusting,” Mrs Miszkowiec said.
“They eventually moved out. It wasn’t the same living there. The fear that it could happen again is unimaginable.”
10 years on, the Miszkowiec family doesn’t think they will ever overcome what happened on that day.
“The smell of smoke sends total panic through your whole body,” she said.
“The mention of catastrophic weather brings on panic attacks.
“We couldn’t rebuild on that property. We sold the land and moved to a house with no grassland around, just houses.”
The Miszkowiec family takes nothing for granted and leaves copies of special items at a family member’s house in fear of losing everything again.
“Some days we miss things and on special occasions, like a photo board for one of the kids 21st birthday reminds us that we don’t have those baby photos anymore we don’t have the past in print, only in our minds,” she said.
“But we move on one day at a time and our new house becomes a home. We take lots of photos.
“Life goes on but with a different approach to everything we do.”
Mrs Miszkowiec said her and her family is very humbled by the way family friends and total strangers cared about what they were going through.
“We will forever remember this date and the beautiful people we have come in contact with through such devastation,” she said.