Bushfire-ravaged community rallies to save wedding ruined by blaze

A fire-ravaged community rallied around a couple on Saturday to help them tie the knot in their dream country wedding after bushfires forced them to change venues at the last minute. 

Australian Stephanie Forde and her British husband Chris Forde, both 31, travelled to her family’s property in Tambo Upper, East Gippsland, on New Year’s Day ahead of their January 4th wedding, only to find it had been blocked off by police. 

On the couple’s arrival, with Chris’s family in tow, Mrs Forde told Yahoo News Australia it became very clear their special day was not going to go off without a hitch. 

The couple was married in front of 22 guests at a family friend's property in Paynesville. Source: Rebecca Farley Photography

The day before the wedding, Mrs Forde’s family was ordered to evacuate their five-acre property after it was revealed the area was going to be lashed with temperatures above 40 degrees and intense winds on Saturday. 

The couple contacted friends of Mrs Forde’s step-father, Judith and Jonathan Wood, who offered up their own home in Paynesville for the nuptials. 

Despite the new location, the newlyweds soon learned the florist supplying their bouquets had burnt down and that their caterer was staying behind to try and protect her own home from flames. 

“It was just one thing after the next,” Mrs Forde told Yahoo News Australia.

Australian Stephanie Forde and her British husband Chris Forde, both 31, were forced to evacuate her parent's property one day before their wedding. Source: Rebecca Farley Photography

‘The kindness was overwhelming’

Mr and Mrs Forde’s wedding planner Adele Charlwood, with Ella del wedding and events, jumped into action, working with the Rotary Club in Bairnsdale to set up marquees at the new location. 

Ms Charlwood was also able to pick up the bouquet and groom’s button hole from the florist, House of Bloom at Dahlsens, which the company donated to the pair. 

Mrs Forde said her family was also able to stop by New Leaf Cafe in Bairnsdale and load up their car with the prepared and packaged food that they then heated up at the Paynesville home. 

“Jonathan and Judy were running between their house and the cottage on their property and had two or three ovens going,” she said. 

Mr and Mrs Forde on a pier at the Paynesville property after their nuptials. Source: Rebecca Farley Photography

“My step-dad’s friend and his wife managed the bar and she was helping put food on.”

Gina Brakey officiated the wedding in front of 22 guests just hours after rescuing dogs stranded by the bushfires, Ms Charlwood said.

“So many people came out and lent a hand. Friends, family and community. Thank you,” the wedding planner later wrote on Facebook. 

Photographer Rebecca Farley told Yahoo News Australia the day was “a rollercoaster for all involved.”

The couple said they had been overwhelmed with everyone's generosity. Source: Rebecca Farley Photography

Mrs Forde said she and her new husband were overwhelmed with the amount of kindness and generosity shown to them on their special day. 

“We were just blown away. Even though all these people were facing all these challenges and threats to their own property and safety, they just kept coming through for us,” she said. 

“I can’t explain the incredible kindness that we were shown by this community. We just experienced so much joy and hope in a time of real tragedy.

“We’ll never be able to repay all these wonderful deeds that people did for us.”

The overjoyed couple pose with their wedding cake. Source: Adele Charlwood

Family’s home still under threat

Mrs Forde said her parents’ property is still under bushfire threat. 

“It’s ok at the moment but this is just the start of the summer and there is a long road ahead,” she said. 

Having been evacuated twice over the past week, the new bride said her family have stacked all their family photos by the front door in case they need to flee for a third time. 

The couple will enjoy a “mini honeymoon” in Healesville before returning to the UK next week.

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