Amid stifling heat in Tathra, an enviable seaside village on the NSW South Coast, elderly local Gerry Collins was relaxing at home with his wife when their sleepy country street became a death trap.
“It all happened so quick that we didn’t have time to get out,” Collins tells WHO of the March 18 fire that “exploded” from the bush onto the town’s Ocean View Avenue.
“So we stayed and we fought it with two hoses. I can’t believe I’m talking to you from my house—I’m standing in it and everyone else’s is gone.”
In what firefighters called a “ferocious” blaze, at least 69 homes were destroyed in Tathra, near Bega, after a bushfire that had wiped out 1,050 ha of bushland swept into the town.
In south-western Victoria, at least 18 homes were destroyed and hundreds of livestock killed in more bushfires.
Hundreds of people have been left homeless, including furniture maker Steve Jory. On the day of the fire, the father of two had just returned from work to his Tathra home to find flames on his street.
“I could see fire in the bush behind the house,” he tells WHO. “There was no point staying and fighting. It just felt like we had to go.”
With his wife at work in nearby Merimbula, Jory fled to the local beach with his children Juvette and Jerome—who has respiratory problems and needed to wear a mask as the thick smoke smothered the village.
When he was allowed to return to his property on March 19, Jory found a devastating scene.
“It’s all gone,” he says. “I thought we might be able to salvage something, but there’s nothing left. It’s all melted or ash. Even the steel frame of the house is buckled from the sheer intensity.”
Despite losing everything, Jory says it could have been worse. “We’re lucky really, we all made it out,” he says. “We will rebuild, and we have plenty of support.”
As Gerry Collins puts it: “We’re buggered, but alive.”
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