Deadly fires: Blaze from hell was pure red evil

 

As a raging inferno destroyed her home a few metres away, Kim Macdonald cowered in a creek with a dog under each arm and a wet blanket over her face, praying they would survive.

She lay there terrified for three hours, as fireballs flew over her head, listening to her beloved home burn, while her firefighter partner was out protecting other people's houses.

It was just one of many shocking, horrifying and amazing stories from two days of fire terror that claimed at least two lives, as many as 150 properties, uncounted numbers of native wildlife and thousands upon thousands of hectares of bush.

"It was really bloody scary," the 53-year-old from Bobin said.

Kim Macdonald in the bank of the creek where she took shelter. Picture Nathan Edwards.
Kim Macdonald in the bank of the creek where she took shelter. Picture Nathan Edwards.

 

The aftermath of the bushfire that tore through Bobin, near Taree. Picture Nathan Edwards.
The aftermath of the bushfire that tore through Bobin, near Taree. Picture Nathan Edwards.


"A fireball just came over the hill and I knew it was going to be snap, crackle and pop.

"If there had been three fire trucks out the front of my house, it wouldn't have changed anything - the fire was that fierce and moving that quickly.

"I was completely numb, all I could hear were gas bottles exploding and I knew my house was gone. It was really bloody scary."

She recalled how she waded from one side of the creek to other to escape the worst of the flames. As much for her own benefit as theirs, she constantly assured her border collie Neve and staffy Pepi that everything would be all right.

Kim Macdonald with partner Gary Greene in the remains of their burnt out house. Picture Nathan Edwards.
Kim Macdonald with partner Gary Greene in the remains of their burnt out house. Picture Nathan Edwards.

 

Sunday Telegraph. The aftermath of the bushfire that tore through Bobin, near Taree on the NSW mid north coast. Bobin Public School Picture Nathan Edwards.
Sunday Telegraph. The aftermath of the bushfire that tore through Bobin, near Taree on the NSW mid north coast. Bobin Public School Picture Nathan Edwards.

 

The charred remains of the 1910 farmhouse on Bulga Rd owned by Kim Macdonald. Picture Nathan Edwards.
The charred remains of the 1910 farmhouse on Bulga Rd owned by Kim Macdonald. Picture Nathan Edwards.


Ms Macdonald's partner, Gary Greene, 55, was among the 1400 NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers who have spent the past two days fighting to save homes from the blazes that have torn through the state.

Mr Greene said he and a friend, John Howard, 59, raced to find his partner after hearing a call over the radio that the 136-year-old Bobin Creek School next door to his home had gone.

"She had been sitting in the creek for three hours just hoping she wouldn't die," he said.

Yesterday, a visibly shell-shocked Ms Macdonald wandered through the rubble of her 109-year-old historic home, which she had spent the last 11 years renovating, stopping when the smell of smoke made her feel ill.

Everything was gone, including furniture her grandfather Archie had made back in the early 1900s.

Old friend Mr Howard said Ms Macdonald was "absolutely devastated" when they found her.

"When the fire kicked off the whole mountain above town just went red," Mr Howard said.

"It looked evil, I'd never seen anything like it.

Boiler maker John Howard who helped rescue Kim Macdonald. Picture Nathan Edwards.
Boiler maker John Howard who helped rescue Kim Macdonald. Picture Nathan Edwards.


Mr Howard single-handedly saved his own home from the blaze that destroyed the homes of all three of his neighbours.

"I wish I could have done more to help people but at some point you have to stop your own place burning down," he said.

Firefighters are still taking stock of the devastation but early estimates suggest 20 homes in Bobin were burned down.

Yesterday, a wind change turned four of the 94 fires burning across the state back to emergency status, with residents evacuated to shelters or the beach at Lismore, Clarence Valley, Port Macquarie and Hillville.

Despite the heroic efforts of firefighters, two people have died in the blazes.

Five people are still missing, with fears the toll will rise as emergency services are able to get into devastated areas.

One of those lost was Wytaliba resident Vivian Chaplain. She was at her property, about an hour from Glen Innes, when bushfires raced towards the hamlet.

She called her daughter-in-law, Chrystal Harwood, asking for her son and his father to help her fight the flames.

"They tried to get down there but no one could get through," Ms Harwood said through tears yesterday.


"We called the Rural Fire Service but they couldn't get through either. We rang a friend who was in Wytaliba and he pushed through the fire to get to her."

The heroic friend found 69-year-old Ms Chaplain unconscious and suffering burns to at least 40 per cent of her body near her shed.

He carefully carried Ms Chaplain to his ute and drove through the flames again until he met RFS crews at the access bridge to the village, which was by now also on fire.

Ms Harwood said firefighters put Ms Chaplain on a stretcher and carried her on foot to safety.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Tasmanian fire fighters, deployed to NSW to help with the emergency, performed CPR and first aid on her for "several hours".

She was eventually flown to Concord Hospital and died overnight.

Mrs Harwood paid tribute to her "amazing and strong" mother-in-law, who moved to Wytaliba to live a sustainable life on her "own little piece of land".

"She was amazingly strong and very stubborn," she said.


"We all knew she would have stood there with a hose trying to fight it and trying to save the animals.

"We know people who have walked away from their home and watched it burn.

"They have walked away with only the clothes on their backs.

"There are quite a few people who are doing everything they can and putting their lives at risk to save other people and their homes."

Another local, a man, was found dead in his burnt-out car near Wytaliba yesterday morning.

Chilling video posted on social media showed homes on fire and smoke engulfing front yards.

One woman posted how she watched the school and bridge burn down while her husband tried to save their elderly neighbour.

"We were escorted to town by police with a convoy of cars behind us," she wrote on Facebook.

"I am fragile, I am processing. My home is gone."

Many properties in the small, tight-knit community have been destroyed or damaged, including the local school. Firefighters are still battling the blaze around it.

Glen Innes Severn mayor Carol Sparkes lives in Wytaliba and lost her home in the fire.

An evacuation centre has been set up at the Glen Innes Showground for residents.

A wrecked car on the Bulga Rd property owned by Kim Macdonald. Picture Nathan Edwards.
A wrecked car on the Bulga Rd property owned by Kim Macdonald. Picture Nathan Edwards.

'I didn't know I had a knife on me'

premium_icon 'I didn't know I had a knife on me'

Woman tells court she didn't know she had a knife in her bra.

How one bus driver sparked change in Airlie school

premium_icon How one bus driver sparked change in Airlie school

'It went from nothing to suddenly this dream is coming alive'

Workshop to help improve commercial fisher safety culture

premium_icon Workshop to help improve commercial fisher safety culture

'There have been a number of serious incidents in recent years'