Scaddan bushfire inquest hears of last moments spent with deceased

The five-day inquest into the deaths of Kym Brett Curnow, Thomas Leslie Butcher, Anna Sashohova Winther and Julia Kohrs-Lichte has ended. Coroner Sarah Linton will now work on her findings and recommendations. Photos: Supplied.
The five-day inquest into the deaths of Kym Brett Curnow, Thomas Leslie Butcher, Anna Sashohova Winther and Julia Kohrs-Lichte has ended. Coroner Sarah Linton will now work on her findings and recommendations. Photos: Supplied.

A five-day coronial inquest into the Cascade Scaddan November 2015 bushfires heard statements from some of the last people who saw the four people who lost their lives. 

On the final day of the inquest, counsel assisting the coroner Sergeant Lyle Housiaux read a statement from Linda Campbell, taken on November 26, 2015, nine days after Kym 'Freddy Curnow, Tom Butcher, Anna Sushchova-Winther and Julia Kohrs-Lichte perished. 

Stories from day one to four:

Mrs Campbell was married to David Campbell until she passed away. The couple owned the property where Tom, Anna and Julia worked.

In her statement, she said November 17, 2015 had started like any other day. Her family and their staff stopped harvesting about 9:30am because of the weather.

In the early afternoon, her husband and Tom went to fight a fire.

"This was the last time I saw Tom," she said.

About 2:30pm, Anna returned to the property and Julia was helping her unload groceries. She told them they needed to be quick and to start getting ready for the fire. 

Julia had cried a little because she was scared, but Anna had comforted her and she seemed alright.

Linda Campbell in her written statement

She told Julia to start wetting towels and filling buckets and to put them in their bathroom.

"Everything happened quickly after this," Mrs Campbell said.

Freddy Curnow, a neighbour of Mrs Campbell, contacted her on a two-way radio and told her the fire was about 10kms away.

She told Anna and Julia how close the fire was and that they needed to make sure they were ready.

"Julia had cried a little because she was scared, but Anna had comforted her and she seemed alright," Mrs Campbell said. 

Anna then told Mrs Campbell that she and Julia had decided to leave.

Mrs Campbell said if she wanted to leave, she had to go immediately. She said she would call her when they got to Gibson. 

Linda Campbell at a memorial for Kym 'Freddy' Curnow, two years after the deadly fires. Photo: Sam Gibbs.

Linda Campbell at a memorial for Kym 'Freddy' Curnow, two years after the deadly fires. Photo: Sam Gibbs.

Mrs Campbell went into the house with her daughter, Megan Campbell, and she saw either Anna or Julia running outside.

"I thought  to myself, 'why haven't they left yet'," she said.

Mrs Campbell and Megan jumped into the bathroom, bracing for the approaching fire front.

"There was smoke, everything went dark and then it glowed red with the flames."

For hours, Mrs Campbell was unable to verify where Anna and Julia were. Eventually, her husband's sister told her Tom's car had crashed and they were caught in the blaze.

'The last time I saw dad'

Sgt Housiaux also read a statement from Freddy Curnow's son, Tom Curnow

Mr Curnow wrote the statement two days after his father had died.

He had been out with his dad, warning neighbours to evacuate. Mr Curnow arrived at the Campbell's property about 3:30pm.

He got in a work ute and went in a different direction to his father so they could warn people faster.

"That was the last time I saw dad," he said.

Mr Curnow eventually called his Uncle Daren to ask him where his dad was, but his uncle said he didn't know because of the poor reception. 

"I kept trying to call dad and Uncle Daren."

About 5:00pm on the 17th, farmer and family friend David Vandenberghe called Mr Curnow, telling him his dad had died.

Bravery then and now

Esperance Shire president Victoria Brown addressed the court on behalf of the community on the last day of the inquest.

Mrs Brown thanked the volunteers who put their lives on the line for others.

"You showed not only bravery on the field that day, you've shown bravery this week in court," she said. 

The Shire president also told the families of the deceased they would "always be part of our community".

Mrs Brown said while fires were inevitable, she hoped findings from the inquest would improve mitigation and response practices so the community would be in the "best position" when faced with future events.

Coroner 'impressed'

Coroner Sarah Linton said the evidence showed the fire was an "unprecedented" event, which despite the four fatalities, could have resulted in a much higher death toll. 

"I've been impressed by the way witnesses have gone about giving their evidence," she said. 

Coroner Linton will now review evidence submitted and testimony from the five days. She said it would be "many months" before the findings were released.