Kangaroo Island in South Australia has been likened to a Noah’s Ark for its unique ecology. But after fierce bushfires tore through island this week, there are fears it may never fully recover.
“You see the glowing in the distance,” says Sam Mitchell, remembering the fire that threatened his home, family, and animals last week.
“The wind is quite fast, the glowing gets brighter – and then you start to see the flames.”
Sam runs Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park and lives there with his wife and 19-month-old son, Connor. As the flames approached, an evacuation warning was issued. Within 20 minutes, “everyone was gone”.
But Sam – and four others – stayed behind.
“You can’t move 800 animals including water buffaloes, ostriches and cassowaries [an ostrich-like bird],” he says.
Sam Mitchell and his family stayed behind to protect his animals
“We decided that if we can’t move them we’ll see if we can save them. We had the army helping us. Somehow, we were spared. It burnt right around us.”
The fire, on 9 January, was the second major blaze to ravage Kangaroo Island in less than a week. Two men had died in a blaze on 4 January. Authorities believe they were overrun by flames as they drove along the highway.
The fires on Kangaroo Island have been shocking for their speed and extreme behaviour.
After his park was spared, Sam soon realised that the eastern town of Kingscote – where he’d sent his son – was under threat.
“I thought I was sending him to safety,” he says. “It turns out the fire missed us and was heading in their direction.”
The fire came dangerously close to Kingscote but did not impact the town. While talking to me, Sam keeps a close eye on his son, who’s now back in the park.