When Lorene Hare evacuated from her Old Bar home on Saturday, she was not sure whether she would see her home or husband Jim again.
The flames creeping ever closer to their home forced her to flee about 4am on Saturday.
Jim stayed behind to protect the property and animals, and within a few hours the frightening blaze cut off the road leading into the town and their home.
Jim and Lorene relocated to Old Bar 18 months ago. Jim was born and raised in the district and Lorene moved here in in 1982.
Lorene said she learned of the road closure at the Taree Evacuation Centre later on Saturday, and it reduced her to tears.
Retelling the story to the Pastoral Times on Wednesday, Lorene was overcome by emotion again.
‘‘I went with a friend (and neighbour) to stay with her granddaughter at Taree and on Saturday we went to the evacuation centre to get some information.
‘‘When we were told there was no access to Old Bar at this time, I lost it.
‘‘I got all those feelings of guilt, for leaving Jim behind, and of helplessness.
‘‘I had some contact with Jim, but there were some periods he could not answer the phone and it really got me worried.
‘‘I later found out that the fire had jumped the road near our house and set a telegraph pole on fire, and there were some other spot fires.
‘‘The main transformer was burned meaning Jim and the neighbours had no power all day Saturday.
‘‘If was on Friday night we could see the smoke in the distance, and we started regularly checking the Old Bar community page on Facebook for updates.
‘‘We also had a visual indication as our home is on the main road and we could hear and see the fire trucks. That visual was enough for me to pack the car ready to leave.
‘‘Jim offered to stay up and keep watch and sent me to bed to get some sleep, and at 4am Saturday he woke me, told me to get dressed and said ‘it does not look good’.
‘‘I looked out the window and all I could see was red in the distance.
‘‘The flames were virtually just across the road, and when we were standing at the front gate a police car tore up the road and the officer just told us to get out.
‘‘The animals were still there and Jim said he did not want to go.
‘‘I rang a friend and she told me she had already left, but her husband had stayed. There are five ladies in the street and we all left and our husbands stayed behind.’’
Lorene said driving out of Old Bar to meet her friend was an unsettling feeling, which was replicated when they tried to return the following night.
‘‘I was on my own and thought I would see a trail of cars trying to leave, but there was noone.
‘‘I turned toward Taree in the dark and then I could see all these parked trucks and cars banked up along the road with their lights off.
‘‘By Saturday evening we heard the road to Old Bar had reopened, but when my friend and I went to go through it had closed again.
‘‘We turned around and stayed at her granddaughter’s again, but by 6am Sunday we were ready to go home again and see our husbands.
‘‘As we came in we saw all the cars parked again and we knew it was not good.
‘‘The road was closed again because they were yet to do a full assessment.
‘‘Another neighbour drove by on the other side of the closure, told us to park our car and he would drive us in.
‘‘We spent the day at our homes. During that time we were surrounded by thick smoke and only had power for about half an hour for the whole day.
‘‘Jim was continually going to help our friends, one who had a fire at the back of his house and one who was surrounded by forest.
‘‘I went back to the car but we still we not allowed through, so we went back to Taree to get groceries and supplies because everything in Old Bar had closed.
‘‘After two hours in line coming back, we were finally allowed through.’’
Lorene said there was some relief from the conditions on Monday, but said the predicted Catastrophic Tuesday conditions lived up to expectation.
‘‘We woke Tuesday morning and you could not see in front of you for the smoke.
‘‘We knew we were in for a bad day, but it was not as bad as we first thought it would be. Apparently all the smoke acted as a natural barrier.
‘‘A fire did start to the west of us, and a helicopter had to come over and do a water drop.
‘‘We went in to survival mode again. The car was already packed and parked facing the gate, but this time we had the horses floated, the dogs inside and birds secured too.
‘‘We went to bed not knowing what was going to happen next, and at 1am we were woken and we could see flames less than one kilometre from the property’s far east corner.
‘‘Jim went into protection mode and the firies were also there, and we continued to listen to the emergency scanner.
‘‘Eventually the winds died down and the fires were starting to as well, and we could hear the firies calling in that they were standing down for the night.
‘‘When we got up at 6.30am Wednesday and looked outside it was like nothing had happened, but because the main worry is the wind we are still on tenterhooks.
‘‘I still feel jumpy all the time and I am constantly checking out the window.
‘‘It has been a harrowing experience, but we’ll keep doing what we have to do to get through it.’’
Lorene said because Jim had cleared around their home days before the fires started, their home was not damaged during the ordeal.
But she said residents at the other end of the Warwiba Rd where they live lost some of their sheds. She had not heard of homes being lost on the road.
Fires have been burning in northern NSW for at least seven weeks, with Deniliquin and district firefighters being sent in strike teams to assist where needed.
In addition to NSW Fire & Rescue and NSW Rural Fire Service firefighters, staff attached to the National Parks and Wildlife Service from Moama and Mathoura have been deployed.
Mathoura’s Andy McAuliffe returned home from an 18 day stint in Glen Innes before this week’s catastrophic conditions, but is on stand-by to return.
A field supervisor, the 55 year-old said he was acting as a sector leader, looking after up to around 30 personnel on the fireline.
‘‘We were mainly backburning for fire control, mainly on the Liberation fire. I am also a problem tree faller, so I did quite of bit of cutting down large burning trees and we did some remote work winching people into locations from the helicopter to undertake fire control.
‘‘This year fire conditions are just so dry. One of the main things that has stuck out to me is that the locals can’t believe that the rainforest and moist vegetation that normally slows or stops fire in gullies is so dry — the fire is consuming everything and not slowing down.
‘‘I think the communities affected are showing that they are real communities.
‘‘I saw everyone was pulling together to make sure everyone had a bed, food to eat and someone to talk to.
‘‘Some are tired. When my crew got there on this deployment the fire was already 50 days old.
‘‘Things have been going so long the volunteers are struggling because they can’t keep taking time off work. And everyone is talking about the lack of water.
‘‘We had to travel up to 20km to get water, so we didn’t use it unless we really had to.’’