“I’D never felt numb before, but I have now.”
That’s how Gayle Stone summed up her emotions yesterday after losing her family home of 29 years to the Chepstowe fire.
Gayle returned to her home for the first time yesterday morning, but already knew the worst news.
Her husband Ray had taken a risk to see if their Carngham Road house had survived about 7pm on Tuesday, not long after the fire had torn through the area surrounding Station Lane.
He found it in a smouldering pile, nothing left but the chimney, a few statues and – remarkably – a plastic letterbox at the front of the driveway.
“I was just gutted,” he said.
“When I got there, there was nothing there and that’s when it hit me.”
The weatherboard house was located a few hundred metres west of Station Lane, where a number of homes were destroyed.
The couple had been in Ballarat for the day, ironically after Mrs Stone felt depressed watching the news coverage of the Tasmania bushfire.
They travel into Ballarat for supplies once a week, but say it is an extreme rarity to visit Ballarat just for leisure.
“I was just sitting at home and thought I wanted to get away from all the news about the fires, I just felt so bad for everyone,” said Mrs Stone.
They left their house about 3pm, moments before any sign or smoke or danger.
Within a matter of hours, they were still in Ballarat, unaware their home had been destroyed.
Then a phone call from close friend Jenny Griffin had them fearing the worst.
“As soon as she mentioned Station Lane I knew we were gone,” said Mrs Stone.
“But I am absolutely grateful we are alive. I don’t think we would have got away in time if we were at home. There was definitely someone looking down at us from above telling us to go into Ballarat.”
Although their home is in ruins, the couple have vowed to rebuild.
“There is no doubt we will rebuild, we couldn’t go anywhere else,” said Mr Stone.
“We love it out here, it’s a great community and you can tell that just from today, everyone has been so supportive.”
The Stones were planning to stay at a friend’s house in Snake Valley last night, but also have three sons who can support them as they get back on their feet.