An explosion, a scream, then silence

Firefighters battle a blaze in Labertouche, about 125 kilometers west of Melbourne.
For 25 agonizing minutes, journalist Norm Beaman did not know whether his wife had perished in wild fires sweeping southern Australia, after he lost mobile phone contact following an explosion and a scream.

Beaman, a veteran reporter for Channel 7 news, was racing home to his property on Mount Disappointment, north of Melbourne, talking to his wife Annie as she tried to defend their home from the fires that have left dozens dead. “She was being stoic, putting up a fight, but when the hay and machinery shed next to our house exploded, she frantically screamed: ‘I’m jumping in the dam,’ and that was the last I heard of her for 25 minutes,” he told CNN. Beaman, held back at a roadblock, argued with police to be let through to try to find Annie, but they refused — eventually dispatching an officer to investigate. Watch Beaman describe his anguish ». Annie, meanwhile, had been found by neighbors who took her to shelter in the smoldering ruins of another property — only to face a return of the flames. “She and some of the neighbors on top of this mountain huddled together in a burnt-out paddock with blankets over their heads and let the fire… and it curled back over them but they escaped.” Beaman said he eventually made it through to his home after persuading offers manning the roadblock to turn a blind eye. “I eventually pleaded on humanitarian grounds in fairly direct terms with a policeman and asked him to turn his back for 30 seconds and he did and I got through,” he said. “A lot of my neighbours have lost everything, but miraculously, my house is still standing and it’s now got bodies sleeping on every square inch.” Photos: Bushfires leave path of destruction »

Beaman said his 22-year-old son Cameron, a news cameraman, was also fearing the worst for his mother as he was dispatched to film the area from the air and was so overcome with emotion he had to taken off the job. “He couldn’t stand the thought of his mother perishing while he filmed and he had to be dropped off out of the chopper and another cameraman take over.”