Family thanks firefighters and pure wool carpets

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Bob GarnantCountryman
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The modern brick-and-iron house that Peter John Ryan built is still standing after the fires that raged through the Gnarabup community on November 23 and 24.

Mr Ryan said it was evident by the burns in the carpet that fiery embers had nearly ignited his family's home, but he believes it was saved in part by the flame-resistant properties of a pure wool carpet.

But more so, the tradesman and his wife, Alexandra (Alex) want to commend the brave efforts of the many firefighters.

"Without them, nothing would have prevented total destruction," Mr Ryan said.

It was not so lucky for the 39 homes that were destroyed by the fire, 12 of which were in the immediate vicinity of the Ryans' home.

The couple have come to grips with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the fire, but the anxiety it caused remains.

Former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keetly's special inquiry into the Margaret River fires was released last week.

Mr Ryan, who last week attended the Margaret River community meeting addressed by Mr Keetly, said he hoped there would be a further independent review.

"The terms of reference from Mr Keetly's findings and recommendations were so narrow," Mr Ryan said.

"We are left with the painful task of dealing with insurance companies because of the negligence of the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC)."

The Ryans are confused as to why the DEC did not listen to the local community regarding the dangerous conditions that led to prescribed burns getting out of control.

"We were relieved to discover our house survived, enduring some cosmetic damage, while structural assessment from the intense heat is still ongoing," Mr Ryan said.

It was several days after the fire that he was allowed to inspect his house, which he finished building 18 months ago.

He found it full of ash and embers, which had left scars on the wool carpet.

"We had some windows open and the 85km wind would have invited certain devastation if anything would have ignited inside," he said.

The couple said they were now true believers in the fire-resistant properties of wool.

According to a CSIRO report, while most fibres are polymers containing mainly carbon and hydrogen that can burn easily, wool contains high levels of nitrogen and sulphur, which are fire retardants.

"Wool has naturally low flammability characteristics," the CSIRO report said.

Luckily, as news first spread of the danger, the Ryans and their four children - Joe, 7, Tess, 10, Henry, 13, and Molly, 14 - were out of harm's way, safe at school.

By noon, Mr Ryan's mobile was full of warning messages and Ms Ryan rushed from her TAFE class to collect the children at school, both parents not knowing what exactly was unfolding.

"The wall of smoke coming from the direction of our coastal home gave me a sense that the world was coming to an end," Ms Ryan said upon first looking skywards for answers.

The family met at the emergency relocation centre and decided it best that Ms Ryan would drive the children to relatives in Mandurah while Mr Ryan stayed behind.

"We listened to the radio all the way, naturally concerned for the entire community," Ms Ryan said.

Mr Ryan was kept occupied documenting the whereabouts of his family and awaiting hourly updates from fire officials.

The Ryans moved to Gnarabup 10 years ago, trading life in Perth for the popular Margaret River region.

We are left with the painful task of dealing with insurance companies because of the negligence of the Department of Environment and Conservation. Peter John Ryan

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