Acclaimed Australian bush pilot “Desert” Dick Lang, and his son Clayton, have been killed in the catastrophic bushfire that scorched more than 150,000 hectares on Kangaroo Island. SA Police Deputy Commissioner Linda Williams confirmed two deaths during a media conference in Adelaide on Saturday morning. A CFS crew discovered the body of one person in a burnt-out car on the Playford Highway at Gosse, and a second body was also found nearby. It was confirmed on Sunday morning that all Kangaroo Island residents are accounted for. The CFS downgraded the Watch and Act across the western side of the island to an advice message — but urged locals to remain vigilant as the fire remained uncontrolled in parts of the area.
The roads in green are only open to residents, relief/recovery services and media. Crews are responding to multiple spot fires, east of the fire edge and around the Stokes Bay area. In unrelated fire news, the Eyre Highway is also closed to all traffic at the SA/WA border due to fire risk and road damage.
SA Power Networks reported extensive damage to their infrastructure after the KI fires, with no estimate of restoration time. Customers can sign up for SMS/email updates on power restoration at bit.ly/SMSservice. In a statement, the Lang family said Dick and Clayton were returning to the family property on Kangaroo Island after fighting a nearby fire for two days. “We are devastated to have lost two beloved members of our family - Dick Lang and his youngest son Clayton Lang - in such terrible circumstances,” it read. “‘Desert Dick’ Lang, 78, was a pioneering bush pilot and safari operator who opened up the outback to countless travellers from Australia and overseas. He first offered 4WD adventures in 1965, later adding aircraft trips to all corners of Australia and other countries, from Papua New Guinea to Africa. “Clayton, 43, was one of Adelaide’s leading plastic and reconstructive surgeons, specialising in hand surgery.” “We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the CFS volunteers, police and members of the Kangaroo Island community who are doing so much to help all those on the Island affected by these catastrophic fires.”
“I don’t want to make assumptions but I would say it’s linked to a vehicle that was discovered near Parndana.” Premier Steven Marshall described the deaths as a tragedy. “Our hearts go out to the family of those affected,” he said. Mr Marshall said the fire had destroyed the majority of the Flinders Chase National Park in the southwest of the island — Australia’s third-largest. “The fires that occurred (on Friday) were significantly worse than in 2007 in Flinders Chase because it took out all of the building infrastructure within this national park,” he said.
Mr Marshall said about 250 people were based at a recovery centre in Kingscote, where plans were being developed to help them leave the island. He said there would be significant livestock and wildlife losses, with about 500 CFS, MFS and Environment Department firefighters and farm fighting units battling the blazes. “Although the people there are very capable dealing with fires, they are very tired at the moment having battled fires on Kangaroo Island for two weeks,” Mr Marshall said. “It’s clear that South Australia has had an extraordinarily difficult time since December 20 and there has been extensive damage right across our state.” Country Fire Service chief officer Mark Jones said the blazes had “greatly abated” since Friday but still continued to burn out of control. “We are very grateful to those people on the island who heeded our warnings (on Friday) and the day before and got themselves out of harm’s way,” Mr Jones said. “The weather (on Saturday) should give our crews the opportunity to start to get on top although we expect that the fires will burn for some days.”
Areas including Flinders Chase, Vivonne Bay, Hansen Bay, Kelly Hill, Western River and Stokes Bay towards Parndana in the central area, Stokes Bay in the north and Seal Bay in the south continue to be affected. About 170 firefighters and personnel are expected to fly into the island on Saturday to join the 350-strong crew on the ground.
Earlier on Friday, crews unsuccessfully battled to save the luxury Southern Ocean Lodge, where six senior staff sheltered in an emergency bunker after the resort was evacuated. The resort’s owner, Baillie Lodges, reported the luxury accommodation had sustained significant damage from the bushfire and would be closed for the foreseeable future. Baillie Lodges founders and co-creators of Southern Ocean Lodge, James and Hayley Baillie, said initial plans were already at hand to rebuild. “We are absolutely shocked and saddened by today’s events,” Mr and Mrs Baillie said. “A bushfire incident such as this is really our worst nightmare come true.” The Flinders Chase Visitor Centre was also reportedly destroyed.
Residents on Kangaroo Island have been asked to limit their non-essential water consumption after the bushfires heavily damaged the Middle River Water Treatment Plant. The damage to the treatment process at the facility has directly affected Kingscote, Parndana and surrounding areas. It was estimated water supply for human consumption would last until Friday and SA Water are planning to install two smaller treatment facilities to get usable water from the Middle River dam to the community as a contingency plan.
While the Penneshaw Desalination Plant and supply network is operating normally, residents are asked to curb their water usage in case it is required to supplement Kingscote. SA Water spokesman Mark Gobbie said while the water appeared dark coloured, it was safe to drink. An unexpectedly strong change brought wind gusts reaching 55km/h around 8pm on Friday and pushed the blaze eastwards. About 2.5mm rain fell about 4am on Saturday, bringing much needed relief, with 2-5mm showers expected for the rest of the day. The townships of Kingscote and Penneshaw are considered areas of safety and a 24-hour relief centre has been established at the Kingscote Football Club. Extensive road closures are in place to allow crews to move across the fireground and to ensure safety of the public. People are asked to avoid these areas as a significant threat remains across the fireground.