Published on 29 January 2021

In the aftermath

“It was very scary,” says Cherry Garden resident Simon Blair-Beal of the fire that tore through the town last Sunday.

“We’ve seen fires, but this one… it was vicious. It was not just burning, it was boiling… I thought wow.”

Simon and wife Moira (pictured) had planned to stay and protect their home, but when the fire split and approached their property from two sides, they realised they’d better evacuate.

They had their stuff ready to go, as they do every summer—family heirlooms, legal documents, food—sitting by the front door, so they packed it in the car and “kissed it all goodbye”.

“Luckily the CFS came in,” Simon says on Thursday, as firefighters from CFS, DEW and Forestry SA continue to identify and put out hotspots around the fire site.

“They protected our place as a buffer to stop it [the fire] going further up the valley.”

A pump was destroyed, their bore is damaged, and they’ve lost some nut trees and century-old stringybarks, but their house was saved.

“We’re so thankful,” says Simon of the CFS’s efforts (himself a volunteer).

Not everyone was so lucky. Two homes, 19 outbuildings and two vehicles were lost in the fire, which burnt more than 2,700 hectares of scrub and grassland near Longwood, Mylor, Biggs Flat, Scott Creek, Chapel Hill, Cherry Gardens and Mount Bold, before it was declared contained on Monday night.

The streets around the Blair-Beals is a hive of activity. CFS vehicles pass by, their lights flashing, stopping to consult with residents about hotspots.

Tree roots can continue burning underground even after a bushfire is contained, with the internal structure of the tree burning while the outside remains intact. Logs, stumps and trees can re-ignite.

Residents are also directing animal rescue volunteers to injured wildlife. Two koalas rest in a tree a little further down the road.

City of Onkaparinga crews are nearby, clearing the roads of fallen trees and debris, assessing trees and removing those that pose a danger to ensure the roads are safe.

Council rangers are responding to resident reports of wandering sheep in the area.

Development services staff are meeting with residents, including one who lost a hay shed to the fire. The smell of smoke is still thick in the air.

Onkaparinga Mayor Erin Thompson is on the ground too, speaking with council arborists and residents from council’s north-eastern border that were affected by the blaze. She also pays tribute to the CFS.

“We’re forever grateful to the SA Country Fire Service and all the brave volunteer firefighters and emergency services personnel who battled the fires this week,” she says.

“In partnership with the Local Government Association of South Australia and Australian Red Cross – South Australia, our staff are working to understand the full impact the fires have had on residents, so that we can get them the support they need.”

Come Thursday night, flare-ups across the fireground have been quickly extinguished by CFS ground crews with support from the air, though it’s expected flare-ups will continue for weeks to come.

In total 41,000 litres of water from 41 loads was strategically dropped from the helicopter bucketing system on Thursday, following 46 loads (46,000 litres) on Wednesday.

The CFS’s incident updates stress that while they’re in the later stages of the firefight, the fireground is still very active, with a continual risk of flare-ups and a significant amount of essential and support services working to return the area to a safe state.

“For this reason, we continue to ask people not to enter these fire-affected areas for their safety and the safety of those working in the area.”


For those living and working in the area and surrounding areas—if you see columns of smoke or flames that are unattended on the fireground, please call Triple Zero (000).

For injured animal response please call SAVEM on 0477 055 233.

For updates visit the CFS website or phone the Bushfire Information Hotline on 1800 362 361.


  • Check and follow your Bushfire Survival Plan
  • Decide what you will do if the situation changes
  • Look and listen for information on television, radio, internet, mobile phones and by speaking with neighbours


  • CFS website:
  • Bushfire Information Hotline 1800 362 361
  • For hearing or speech impaired users, phone 1300 555 727 then ask for 1800 362 361
  • For teletype service TTY 133 677
  • CFS on Facebook or Twitter
  • On local ABC radio, FIVEaa, or one of our other Emergency Broadcast Partners.
  • Do not rely on a single source for warning information.
  • For emergencies call Triple Zero (000)
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Cherry Gardens fire