On New Year’s Eve, 31 December 2015, Jeremy Crotty and his partner Chantelle, along with their neighbours at Midland Caravan Park in Middle Swan Western Australia, found themselves victims of a random arson attack that threatened to destroy their homes.
It was 30 seconds to midnight. Jeremy was at work in the nearby Westrac warehouse, and on hearing the countdown his phone rang. It was his partner Chantelle, but she wasn’t calling to wish him a Happy New Year. Chantelle was panic-stricken. Fire had engulfed the back end of the caravan park and one man had already lost his home – it had only been a matter of minutes. Chantelle wanted to know what to grab in a desperate effort to save some precious things. “If you can, get the hard drive, he’d said, it’s got all our photos.”
Jeremy jumped in his car but by now Chantelle was hysterical, but he was 15 minutes away.
“I could see the thick smoke and flames coming from the caravan park and I still had 10 minutes to drive. Chantelle was on speaker phone in the car so I could hear the chaos around and terror in her voice. It was terrible,” said Jeremy.
“By the time I arrived, the fire brigade were just getting there, and people were appearing out of the smoke. It reminded me of those horrible images from 9/11. The flames were so huge I thought everything in our home had to have gone and that’s when Chantelle appeared,” he said.
Jeremy, Chantelle, their neighbours and the fire brigade spent the next several hours fighting the fire, trying to keep as many homes from destruction from the burning embers being whipped up by high winds, landing on their roofs, and rolling under the caravans onto hot dry leaves.
They were luckier than some, and despite damage to the exterior, they still had their home.
Jeremy didn’t sleep that night as he kept watch for spot fires in the paddock and swamp where the fires had first been deliberately lit. He didn’t sleep for the next two nights either, as he remained vigilant, feeling vulnerable to the elements, afraid it would happen all over again. This type of diligence proved imperative considering up to a week later a fire did start up again.
By the time Jeremy returned to the warehouse a few days later, after finally getting some sleep, he was exhausted and his colleagues realised he wasn’t fit for work.
“The flashing lights and horns beeping kept distracting me. It kept taking me back to the night, with all the noise and lights. It’s amazing how many things take you back, loud noises, lights and smells. I also had a constant bad headache. I wasn’t sure if it was from the lack of sleep or smoke or what, but I couldn’t concentrate and I realised I was a danger to my work mates, as well as myself. So I left work and went to the doctor who said I had PTSD and needed to rest,” said Jeremy.
Jeremy had used all his holiday allowance, so it meant taking time off work which would be unpaid. Then he remembered he was a member of Miners’ Promise.
“I called Miners’ Promise, and a Miners’ Promise family support advisor came out to see me very quickly. They were brilliant. We still had bills to pay like rent and power, but Miners’ Promise looked after that, even sorting out all the issues with the bank to make sure the payments could be accepted.
“Having Miners’ Promise take care of this stress meant I was able to concentrate on getting our lives back to normal and getting back to work, which I did after a couple of weeks,” said Jeremy.
“It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders knowing Miners’ Promise was taking care of the financial and practical obligations until I could get back to work. It meant we had one less thing to worry about. I am so glad I joined Miners’ Promise. After all it’s just a few dollars each week to save so much peace of mind,” he added.
Sadly, the culprits who lit the fires were never apprehended and they and their fellow residents continue to rebuild their lives, and the caravan site. Despite this and the relatively short time since the incident, Jeremy and Chantelle were both keen to share their story to highlight the terrible destructive force of fire, and the importance of clearing brush and cuttings to prevent fuel build up, particularly near residential areas.
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to both Jeremy and Chantelle for allowing us to share their story.