VIDEO: Neighbours help save home in Toolleen fire

Winemaker Brian Spencer talks about his Toolleen fire experience

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WINEMAKER Brian Spencer says if it wasn't for the help of neighbours armed with hoses and buckets a fire would have destroyed his house and his entire vineyard.

Mr Spencer took refuge in his two metre by two metre pump shed as the fire front approached.

His winery, Cornella Ridge Estate, was badly damaged as flames raced across paddocks and threatened properties on Boxing Day.

About half of his 20 acres of vines were lost.

Wooden sheds that were more than 100 years old were burnt to the ground as flames came within metres of the house and cellar door.

"I just took shelter in the shed and left the door open," Mr Spencer said. 

"I could see the flames getting close.

"I had the hose in there. I was going to go back to the house but the ferocity of the fire died down dramatically once it got out of the stubble. 

"I was able to pretty much fight it directly. It was running across pretty low vegetation."

"It probably got to within half a metre of the pump shed."

Mr Spencer said the fire had moved at rapid speed past his house but flames entered his property from the side, catching hold of the vines.

A group of neighbours and friends rushed to his aid and worked until midnight using hoses and any water they could find to try and contain the flames.

"Once it got into the vineyard (the fire) was much slower but it was harder to control," he said.

"It was three hours of torture really. You think you've got it and then it jumps another row and jumps the next bit."

"We were still fighting it hours later."

Mr Spencer said they moved through a thick cloud of smoke as they fought the fire along the 400m-long rows of vines.

He said it was a hard sight to watch vines he planted 12 years ago turn to burning embers.

"Quite frankly I'd rather the house burnt down. You can re-build a house in six months but you can't re-build a vineyard. Even if you replant it you have to wait years. Some of the vines will bounce back, some of them will die. I don't really know when we'll be able to tell which ones will survive."

Mr Spencer's wife Cynthia Page arrived at the property late Thursday night after hearing news of the fire over the phone.

"Brian rang and said 'don't come there's a fire over the hill'. Then he said 'it's just jumped the fence' and he hung up... There was about 20 minutes where I had no way of knowing if he was OK."

Ms Page said her first point of call was to give Brian a big hug when she realised he was alright.

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