Sister in Gladstone mourns WA fire victim, her 'hero'

Tom Butcher with his sister Jess Greenaway.
Tom Butcher with his sister Jess Greenaway.

TANNUM Sands resident Jess Greenaway is mourning her little brother Tom Butcher, who has been hailed a hero after his death in the Western Australia bushfires.

Mr Butcher, a 31-year-old English expatriate, lived in Gladstone for about three years. 

He was one of three foreign nationals who died on Wednesday as they tried to escape the firestorm near Esperance on Western Australia's south coast.

Mrs Greenaway said Mr Butcher was an outgoing, caring man who would do anything to help others. 

"I always called him my hero, my little brother," she said.

She said that heroic streak had him trying to save his beloved horse, Cougs, before the firestorm engulfed Karranga Station, the Scadden farm where the foreign nationals worked.

The trio were driving away from the property with the float in tow when the flames overtook them.

"Everyone loved Tom," Mrs Greenaway said.

"He'd walk into a room and have everyone laughing in minutes."

Tom with Coug, the horse he tried to save.
Tom with Coug, the horse he tried to save.

Tributes are flooding in on social media for Mr Butcher, including his girlfriend Leila Vadnjal.  

"The day I met you I told you that we were soulmates; your reply was sticking your finger up my nose then putting it in my mouth!!," she wrote.  

"You knew it as well. You were my life.  

"I can smell you in my bed, your towel still hangs in the "wrong spot". Your chair is still not pushed in from Sunday and I have all the drawings still sitting there."

Mr Butcher first travelled to Australia to visit Mrs Greenaway ten years ago after she made Gladstone her home.

He returned four years ago, working in Gladstone as a diesel mechanic before heading to Esperance about a year ago.

Mrs Greenaway said he was trying to gain Australian citizenship.

"He called Australia home," she said.

In the wake of her brother's death, Mrs Greenaway has already received more than 84 private messages on Facebook offering condolences. 

"It's just going crazy," she said.  

She had always been close to her brother even when they lived on opposite sides of the country.

"We'd speak every other day on the phone," she said.

They last spoke on Friday, when she asked him, "How are you going?"

He replied, "I'm living the dream."

Mrs Greenaway said their last words were "take care, love you, be careful".

Mr Butcher was a groomsman at Mrs Greenaway's wedding earlier this year.

The groomsmen for Jason and Jess Greenaway's wedding. Tom is second from the left.
The groomsmen for Jason and Jess Greenaway's wedding. Tom is second from the left. Contributed

He was planning a trip to Gladstone this Christmas to meet his niece, Mrs Greenaway's four-month-old daughter. 

Mr Butchers' and Mrs Greenaway's parents live in Sheffield in England. 

They will fly into the country on Saturday before the family travels to WA on Tuesday. 

"They've been strong, doing what they've got to do," Mrs Greenaway said.

His other sister will remain in England, heavily pregnant and unable to fly.

Mr Butcher's body is due to be released on Wednesday.

The family will scatter his ashes at the beach in Esperance, where he loved to ride his horse.

Once the family returns, they will plan a get-together for all Mr Butcher's Gladstone friends at Canoe Point, where he loved to walk with his dogs.

Topics:  bushfire editors picks fires gladstone

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