Firey’s heroic decision as flames closed in
When Rural Fire Service volunteer Ian Scarr peered out over the destruction this morning after the "nightmare" inferno tore through the New South Wales village of Killabakh last night, he thought he should take a photo.
But he didn't. He didn't want a final memory of the worst hell he had ever fought through.
"I came back from the top of the mountain today and I thought: will I stop and take a photo? And I thought, no, I don't want to do it," the exhausted ash-stained volunteer said slowly as he reflected from the village's RFS station, about 20km north of Taree on the NSW mid-north coast.
"I've never seen anything like it before, I didn't dream it could happen. Fires have never crossed the Comboyne Rd, but they sure did yesterday."
Killabakh's population of about 300 had a sleepless night, with many residents evacuating to the nearby Manning Valley towns of Wingham and Taree as the ferocious Rumba Dump fire breached containment lines and spread east, choking the area in smoke and embers.
The community's worst fears that the community hall on Comboyne Rd had gone up in flames thankfully weren't realised - the building is still standing proudly - but not all property in the village could be saved.
RFS volunteers said it was too early to know what the result of the destruction would be, but early reports indicated a couple of homes in Killabakh were lost, while a number of sheds were razed.
Mr Scarr, a Killabakh resident, managed to push through his exhaustion to help protect his beloved community.
"I can't sleep and the adrenaline has kept me going," he told news.com.au.
"I get very emotional but when we're busy directing people everywhere, it just seems to go away.
"I got home at 2.30am last night and at 4am I got a call.
"It must be the adrenaline because I don't feel tired. You know you are tired, but I don't feel it.
"I know we've got a job to do."
Mr Scarr said the community kicked into gear, with farmers and residents racing up and down the dirt road on quad bikes, fighting fires with whatever water they could get their hands on.
He choked up with tears he recounted checking on hilltop property where an occupant managed to save his home, despite flames lashing the roof.
"I couldn't believe he could have survived. But he did it, we all did it," Mr Scarr said.
Fellow RFS volunteer Grant Smith said the inferno was a "nightmare".
"We got reports of a fire at house right up the top (of Comboyne Rd) and the flames were coming up over the top, hit a boat and the whole house was engulfed," Mr Smith said.
The crew raced past the house to make sure the residents higher up the hill were safely out.
"Two of them evacuated with their animals and an old bloke said, 'Nup, I'm staying here', and the fella (another volunteer) I was with said, 'If he's staying, I've got to stay with him'.
"So he stayed and managed to save the house with him.
"We were worried about them all night but we got word at midnight they were all right.
"I raced back down (the hill) and all hell had broken loose.
"This whole place was on fire."
When Mr Smith returned he listed the houses which were engulfed in flames, unaware the owner of one of the homes was standing next to him.
"She was standing here and I didn't know, and she broke down," Mr Smith said.
It has been a terrifying week for the citizens of this area, with village of Bobin, west of Killabakh, losing a number of properties at the weekend due to the same blaze.
Conditions for the Rumba Dump fire, which is still blazing across 28,000 hectares, have eased this morning, downgraded from emergency status to "watch and act".
A southerly change overnight pushed the fire in a northerly direction, according to the RFS.
Residents of Upper Lansdowne, Lansdowne, Kippaxs, Mooral Creek, Elands, Bobin, Marlee, Bulgong and Killabakh are urged to monitor conditions closely.