Coronial Inquest to be held into four lives lost in the 2015 Esperance region bushfires

Tom Curnow at his property, 'Kainton', in Scaddan. Photo: Jake Dietsch.
Tom Curnow at his property, 'Kainton', in Scaddan. Photo: Jake Dietsch.

On November 15, 2015, lightning sparked out of control fires in unallocated Crown Land in the Lake Mends area and in Merivale.

Before the all clear was given, four people lost their lives, 19 properties were destroyed and more than 300,000 hectares of land was scorched.

Nearly three-and-a-half years on, a five-day coronial inquest is set to begin on March 25 into the deaths of Scaddan farmer Kym 'Freddy' Curnow and backpackers Thomas Butcher, Anna Winther and Julia Kohrs-Lichte.

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The four are believed to have died on Grigg Road in Scaddan at about 4.30pm on November 17, 2015.

One of Mr Curnow's sons, Tom Curnow, said he did not want the inquest to be about "pointing the finger", but hoped the findings would help to prevent similar tragedies.

Mr Curnow said he still had questions as to why local volunteers weren't allowed to go into the bush and push the fire back immediately and why there was a delay in access to water bombers.

"That's what I would like to get out of it, the security of knowing that local people can go and act off their own backs. The local brigades and farmers know a lot more about how fires act than people sitting in an office back in Perth," he said. 

Mr Curnow said he would like to see fire management and response strategies in place to minimise risks.

"I understand that fires happen, it's a natural thing. The main thing I'd like to see is some findings that point in the direction of giving local authorities a bit more power and using local resources to manage fires and fire risks."

A coronial inquest will be held into the deaths of Kym Brett Curnow, Thomas Leslie Butcher, Anna Sashohova Winther and Julia Kohrs-Lichte. Photo: Supplied.

A coronial inquest will be held into the deaths of Kym Brett Curnow, Thomas Leslie Butcher, Anna Sashohova Winther and Julia Kohrs-Lichte. Photo: Supplied.

Before the fires hit the farmland, Mr Curnow said locals saw hot and windy weather was forecast.

"Everyone down here on the local level was pushing for it to be managed but we couldn't get it passed through."

Tom and Freddy were both volunteer fire fighters and went to warn neighbours on November 17.

They agreed to split up so they could warn their neighbours faster, and planned to meet at Freddy's brother's property.

"I went and warned everyone in that path," Tom said.

"I went to go back to my uncle's, and there was a firefighter who said 'don't go down there', because that was when the fire was coming through.

"You couldn't call anyone or get in contact with anyone because there was no phone signal."

Mr Curnow said he was already somewhat scared as it was the first big fire he had fought as a teenage volunteer. The seriousness of the situation became even more apparent when he found out the fire had overrun and badly burnt his cousin's boyfriend and his neighbour, who were in a ute.

"When we heard that on the two-way, there was a realisation that is was a more serious fire," he said. 

About 5:00pm that night, Mr Curnow received a phone call from one of his father's friends, telling him his father had died.

Tom remembers his father as a "down to earth guy" who was passionate about farming, family, football and community

"He didn't care what people thought of him, as long as he was happy and his family was happy. He always put us first no matter what," Mr Curnow said.

"He was a bloody good bloke and I suppose that's why a lot of people in town knew him."

The bond between a son and his old man, you don't really realise it until your old man's gone.

Tom Curnow

Mr Curnow's favourite memory with his father was the first senior football match he, and his twin-brother Riley, played with their dad.

 "You never really get to play a proper footy game with your dad, so it was good fun us three playing together," he said.

"The bond between a son and his old man, you don't really realise it until your old man's gone.

"I think he was a big influence on me and I hope that I represent him a little bit in how I value things and how I treat people."

Since the bushfires of November 2015, Mr Curnow has successfully ran 'Kainton', his family's Scaddan property. He has become an advocate for agriculture and fire safety.

Last year, his achievements were recognised when he won a WA Young Achiever Award in the agricultural category.

Mr Curnow said he had been able to thrive following tragedy thanks to the support of family, as well as a drive to live up to his father's community and farming legacy.

"The whole of Scaddan got cooked. I just wanted to stand together with our community to rebuild and get things back to normal again. Because my dad was such a big part of the Scaddan community, I wanted to uphold that."

"My family was obviously struggling with the loss. That also really drove me to pick up the ball and keep running."

Kym 'Freddy' Curnow died a hero, warning others about the bushfires. Photo: Supplied.

Kym 'Freddy' Curnow died a hero, warning others about the bushfires. Photo: Supplied.

A big help for Mr Curnow were his two uncles Mic and Daren.

"They were probably the biggest help for me in dealing with losing my dad," he said. 

The fires have permanently changed the small Scaddan community, according to Mr Curnow.

"It put a name on Scaddan. I also think it's brought a lot of people together and closer," he said.

"A lot of families around here, because farms were getting bigger, were getting caught up in their own world. We're in a reliable area and we were thriving most of the time.

"This event happened and I think it brought everyone down to a level playing field.

"Even though you might not have spoken to people after the fire, knowing that you could call upon a neighbour and they'd be there straight away. Just having that in your head, you know that you're probably going to be alright."

Mr Curnow said in the initial aftermath he was "confused and angry", but he had "matured" in the last three years.

"I hope people channel their anger, if there's still anger, to make change, and I hope they don't just stand there and point the finger at someone," he said.

"The inquest is an inquest to discover findings, so why don't we use those findings to drive change to help us in future events."