NSW bushfire victim's 'miracle' escape

As the flames licked at her home and thick plumes of black smoke blocked her path to safety, Catherine Hubbard made her eldest son a promise.

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(AAP)

"He was telling me to get out, crying," she recalled on Friday.

"I said 'Look, I will do everything I can to be okay'."

The mum-of-five made a terrifying escape from the bushfire that ripped through the lower Blue Mountains on Thursday, destroying scores of homes around Springwood, Yellow Rock and Winmalee.

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She returned on Friday, embracing her daughter Amy as the pair took in the rubble and ashes that had been their home.

"It was just completely gutted, to the ground," she told AAP.

"There was nothing left except a baby cup my daughter had when she was little."

The family is now homeless and their belongings were uninsured, but Ms Hubbard said the fact she survived at all was a "miracle".

She'd been napping when disaster struck - woken by a phone call from a worried colleague, wanting to know if she was near the fires.

"I hung up and said 'I'll be fine'," she said.

"But when I went out and checked outside my veranda there was a tree alight and fire all around the backyard."

She threw the pets in the car but was blocked by "a wall of smoke".

Frantic, she approached strangers on the street and asked if she could seek shelter in their home.

"The sun was totally blocked out and houses were burning down to the ground all around us," she said.

Without running water, the neighbours used buckets and wet towels - "whatever we could get our hands on" - to douse embers, knowing the house was their only refuge.

Then came a change in the wind.

This time, the sudden shift that so often turns deadly in bushfires cleared a path through the smoke instead.
"It was a miracle, actually," Ms Hubbard said.

She plans to take her youngest kids back to the shell of their old house on Saturday, "to give them closure".

Then the rebuilding begins.

"This will be a fresh start for us," Ms Hubbard said.

"We're a pretty resilient family."

FRIDAY OCTOBER 18: THE DAY'S EVENTS

6.38pm RFS transport update

5.44 RFS property update

RFS confirms that an initial assessment of properties in Springwood and Winmalee has been carried out. So far, 81 properties destroyed and 37 damaged. 

5.27pm

5.11pm

4.44pm 

Centrelink is offering support for people whose homes have been lost. To contact Centerlink, phone 180 2266.

4.23pm RFS Emergency warning

Emergency Warning: Linksview Rd Fire, Springwood (Blue Mountainns) has progressed into the area around St Columbus.

4.16pm RFS downgrade 

Camden Valley Way fire, Leppington (Macarthur) fire has been downgraded to advice.

4.04 Tony Abbott gets briefing on Blue Mountains fires from Comissioner Fitzsimmons

3.33pm Tony Abbott speaks to media

"This is a fire emergency that could go on for some time."



3.33pm RFS Emergency Warning update

An Emergency Warning is in place for the area around Chapman Parade at Springwood due to fire activity.

3.24pm RFS update: Camden Valley Way

Camden Valley Way: Fire has been downgraded to Watch & Act

3.11pm

2.55pm

2.54pm RFS posts alert that crews are on the scene at a fire on camden Valley Way.

"Property directly threatened. Residents in the area should shelter in place."

2.35pm NSW RFS updates emergency warnings

An Emergency Warning is in place for the Ruttleys Road Fire. There is a threat to properties in the area around Chain Valley Road. For more visit the .

2.30pm RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons speaks to media in the Blue Mountains with Premier Barry O'Farrell.

Commissioner Fitzsimmons described the conditions as “still a very hostile” and said 86,000 hectares of countryside was being burnt, including seven major fires covering 50,000 hectares.

2.18pm NSW RFS updates emergency warnings

An Emergency Warning is in place for the area around Chapman Parade at Springwood due to fire activity. For more visit the .

2.14pm

2.11pm

 

2.04pm

RFS confirms Students from Springwood High School are relocating to Faulconbridge Public School.



1.16pm Professor Ross Bradstock says the fires in the Blue Mountains are the worst since 1968.
 
“On average there has been one destructive fire a decade in the Blue Mountains, but these appear to be the most destructive fires since 1968, when over 100 houses were also lost in the same area," says Professor Bradstock, Director of the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires.

"We are in a very dry situation in the greater Sydney region and when these landscapes dry severely, many of the natural barriers to fire are removed. In these sorts of dry conditions fires can burn for weeks until there is a significant change in the weather.”

1.11pm NSW RFS updates emergency warnings

The RFS has reissued an emergency warning for a fire burning in  the Wyong area on the NSW central coast and urging residents to take shelter.

An emergency warning is also in place in Springwood in the Blue Mountains.

1.10pm Lake Macquarie Mayor Jodie Harrison said historic homes in the area have been destroyed.

"I've been advised ... that it's been confirmed that four houses in the heritage village of Catherine Hill Bay have been lost," she told ABC radio.

"The historic jetty is currently on fire."

She described "flames, a huge amount of smoke and lots of risk".


1.02pm Students in Springwood to stay put at Springwood High School, RFS says.


12.58pm The NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service Inc on how wildlife should be cared for during a bushfire.  


12.40pm Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the thoughts and prayers of every Australian are with the people who are suffering and affected by the bushfires in New South Wales.


12.37pm NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has taken this image of the bushfire damage seen from the skies.

 

12.28pm As firefighters continue to battle fires across NSW, some residents in the Blue Mountains and on the Central Coast have told their stories of survival.

“My husband came up and said to me ‘Look, we’ve had all our windows blow up. The house is on fire. We’re not going to save it'."

12.21pm A bushfire flares up in Springwood's Chapman Parade.


 

12.00pm Strike teams are assembling in Springwood in the Blue Mountains.


11.40am SBS World News Australia reporter, Nikki Canning is a resident of Springwood and is preparing as the fires creep closer to her house. She spoke with Naomi Selvaratnam. below:

 



11.28am The view from the skies of the bushfires in the state's south.

11.27am Low-income earners seeking disaster relief grants have been advised to call number below.


11.14am: Evacuation centres are currently open in Springwood, Lithgow, Raymond Terrace, Swansea and Doyalson. Some others have closed, but this information is subject to change. Please click the link below to view full details. 

 11.03am: RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says he hopes a warmer change won't be as severe as the conditions yesterday.

"Come Sunday and Monday, we can expect to see a return to warmer, drier conditions and a wind pattern dominating out of the north-west, albeit at this stage it's not expected to be quite as strong and as gusty as we saw yesterday."

10.53am: The Ruttleys Road fire near Wyong continues to burn out of control, the NSW Rural Fire Service . More than 1500 hectares of scrub and bushland have been burnt so far. 

10.31am Eighty national parks have been closed due to the bushfires.


10.20am , NSW Police say a report is being prepared for the Coroner to officially determine how the63-year-old man died while defending his home against a fire in the state's north.

 

10.16am Sydney Area Health says two people are being treated at Concord Hospital with bushfire-related injuries.

9.49am NSW Premier O'Farrell confirms a 63-year-old man has died defending his home against a fire in Lake Munmorah in the state's north.

9.46am Authorities say they're preparing for the worst.


"We cannot rule out the very real prospect that some people may not have got out," RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says.

9.39am NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has just received the latest briefing from the NSW RFS HQ.





 

9.26am Authorities are recommending people use the 'Fires Near Me' app to keep updated with bushfire warnings.


 

 

9.23am Greens MP Adam Bandt has defended suggesting the coalition government's climate change strategy could lead to more devastating bushfires like those raging across NSW.

As fierce blazes threatened thousands of homes across the state, Mr Bandt accused Prime Minister Tony Abbott of risking lives by taking the country "backwards" on efforts to combat global warming.

"Why Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia and more pics like this of Sydney," he tweeted, alongside an image of bushfire smoke enveloping the city.

The remarks sparked a backlash online, but Mr Bandt denied it was an act of political opportunism.

"I don't think that talking about protecting the Australian way of life and stopping fires from happening in the future is startling," he said.

 

9.13am Salvation Army launches bushfire relief appeal

 

9.03am Message of thanks for firefighters who have battled blazes throughout the night.

9.01am NSW RFS warns residents and motorists to stay away from fire-affected areas. More traffic info here:

8.58am List of evacuation centres:

Wyong & Lake Macquarie

Doyalson RSL - Pacific Highway Doyalson
Swansea RSL - 5 Bridge Street Swansea
Swansea Workers Club - 9 Rawson Street Swansea

Lithgow & Blue Mountains

Lithgow Workers - 3-7 Tank Street Lithgow
Bilpin Community Centre - 2596 Bells Line Road Bilpin
Springwood Sports Club - 83 Macquarie Road Springwood
Kings Park Sports Complex - Newline Road Kings Road
Blackheath Community Centre - Great Western Highway

Port Stephens

Tomaree Sports Clubs - Nelson Bay Road Nelson Bay
Wests Mayfield - 32 Industrial Drive Mayfield

Wingecarribee/Wollondilly

Brethren Church - Wonga Road Picton


8.47am Smoky haze over Sydney, with the smell of the bushfires described as "like an ashtray". 


8.42am Areas in Sydney's outer west reduced to ash in the wake of a bushfire.

8.34am The mayor of the Blue Mountains has praised the resilience of residents who lost their homes in Thursday's bushfires.

"The worst factors came together at the worst time," Mark Greenhill said.

"We spent the evening ... comforting residents who had lost everything. This has been a very tough 24 hours for the community of the Blue Mountains.

"The resilience that they showed is awesome."

 

8.28am NSW Paramedics urge caution after treating dozens of people for smoke inhalation last night.


8.07am Over 20,000 hectares scorched in Fire near Bells Line Rd, NSW RFS says.


8.05am Information on evacuation centres across NSW can be


8.03am Dramatic images from the frontlines of the Springwood fire.

 

7.50am  Numerous schools are closed on Friday.

7.51am Emergency Warning remains in place for Ruttleys Road Fire, Wyong.

The NSW RFS says: "The Ruttleys Road Fire is burning in the area of Doyalson North, Swansea, Cams Wharf, Murrays Beach, Cave Beach and Catherine Hill Bay areas."

7.40am Stay with us throughout the day for live updates on the battle against bushfires in NSW.

NSW Rural Fire Services say they expect a tough day ahead with 65 fires still burning in NSW and windy conditions expected.


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Published 18 October 2013 at 7:59am
Source: AAP