Family of RFS volunteers loses three homes in bushfires
The urgent knocks at the door came about 6am on New Year's Eve.
Ashley and Bridget Buchanan were woken by their son Toby, rousing them to the horrifying vision of a wall of fire tearing through the gully towards them.
"There was no time to do anything, it was like a tornado full of flames, Mother Nature threw it at us," said Ashley, 60, who built the family home in the depths of the vast gully in Malua Bay on the NSW south coast.
"I told myself 'let the house go, family's more important'."
What the Buchanans didn't know was that their son and daughter were under fire at their homes at the same time. All three properties were razed, leaving the RFS volunteering family homeless.
Five hundred meters away, son Bo, 30, and girlfriend Stacey had packed their bags and were running for their lives.
Toby, who received the NSW Rural Fire Service alert to evacuate in Lilli Pilli, seven minutes away, had banged on their door, too, knowing neither of them had mobile phone service to receive emergency warnings.
Minutes earlier 2km down the road towards Batemans Bay, daughter Roxanne, 26, and partner Mitchell Hyde had given up batting away flames at their rented two-bedroom home.
"Toby had called us at 6am to ask if we're OK, that the fire was coming from Mogo and to get out," Roxanne said.
"It didn't quite sink in, I still went to the kitchen to have breakfast and my morning coffee. I was packing my son's Jack's school bag when embers began dropping. Mitch left with our boat and two bags of clothes and went to help dad. I took Jack and Billi and got out."
Each branch of the family faces a different challenge in putting their lives back together.
Roxanne, an aspiring personal trainer, has received $10,000 from the bushfire Red Cross emergency grant scheme and is now renting a property by the beach in Malua Bay with her partner and Jack, 3, and Billi, 11 months.
"We're rebuilding our lives and starting from scratch, we're absolutely gutted we were not insured. We have lost everything and for a while were sleeping in swags in friend's gardens," she said.
Bridget and Ashley, who say insurers have underinsured their home, are renting nearby and have asked the Red Cross to grant them relief from the emergency funds.
Bo and Stacey are living in a caravan parked outside the remains of their home and have already started rebuilding the shed where they will live while they build a new home thanks to insurance.
For her part Bridget is relieved none of her children or grandchildren were hurt.
"I've never left this home, except for a trip to Bali and a cruise in 2002, I've stayed here helping Ash build the house and raising kids," she said.
"You can't replace exactly what you've lost, but we can give it a good go.
"Little Jack is struggling at the moment, he saw the flames when Roxanne evacuated them through Batemans Bay. He says 'I want to go home but the naughty fire took our home' and … 'Granny's home is broke'.
"It's not over, it will take a while but we'll get there."
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