'Hell on earth': NSW, Queensland residents describe battle to save homes from fires

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Bushfires are causing widespread devastation throughout New South Wales and Queensland.

Residents in areas threatened by deadly bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland have described fleeing in terror, while others remained behind determined to protect their properties. 

In one of the worst-hit areas of Glen Innes, some children fled with such haste they arrived at an evacuation centre without shoes.

Glen Innes Red Cross coordinator Margaret Kiehne said people had little more than the clothes they were wearing when they arrived at the evacuation centre at the showgrounds. 

Firefighters work to contain a bushfire
Firefighters work to contain a bushfire
AAP

"The children arrived in school uniforms - some had no shoes, just shorts and shirts," Ms Kiehne told AAP. 

"When the first lot of children arrived they were very traumatised. When the second lot came it was very emotional. They saw their mates, ran to them and threw their arms around them." 

Peter Simpson, from Nymboida in the NSW northern rivers region said he’d never seen anything like the fire he faced on his property on Friday night.

“It was like an inferno, it was like the apocalypse, it was like hell on earth,” he said.

Peter Simpson said the fire singed his hair.
Peter Simpson said the fire singed his hair.
SBS News

He used water from his dam to protect his home from the oncoming flames.

“It was a catastrophic fire; it went right to the top of the trees.  But I basically saved my home. I’m glad I put my buffer in and had a fire plan.”

Mr Simpson said many others in the area weren’t so lucky. More than 150 properties have been destroyed in NSW, with entire towns virtually wiped out. 

“There’s so many people I feel sorry for here,” he said.

“There’s so many nice people and it’s carnage – every second house on this road is gone.

“Most of Nymboida is going to be displaced because they’re going to have nowhere to live. I’m just glad that I’m safe.

“What we’ve got to do as a community now is bind together and help each other out.“

'We lost our fire station'

Further south, as fires threatened Old Bar and Rainbow Flat on NSW's mid-north coast, some residents were prepared to leave.

Jamie Seddon was helping his parents protect the home they’ve lived in for 15 years.

But he said if they need to, they’re all ready to evacuate.

“Mum’s already got out twice and come back, dad’s ready to go when we need to go so I think we’re all sorted for that,” he said.

“Everyone’s just keeping an eye on each other.”

Residents evacuate themselves and their animals to a park.
Residents evacuate themselves and their animals to a park.
AAP

Mr Seddon described frightening scenes as he watched the fire overnight.

“It just roared through there just on dark last night and after dark. We had it almost 180 degrees around us,” he said.

“You could hear last night it was roaring along but it was heading north so it wasn’t coming towards us until early this morning.

“It’s pretty hairy, it’s not the best feeling in the world but it happens, we’re better off than some others in Rainbow Flat.”

The  ruins of a house smoulders near Taree.
The ruins of a house smoulders near Taree.
AAP

David Cavanough volunteers with the Rural Fire Service in Rainbow Flat but he spent Friday night at home, trying to protect his own property.

He eventually had to evacuate, but returned on Saturday, thankful he’d managed to save his home.

Mr Cavanough said spot fires appeared all over his three-acre property.

“They were everywhere. The fire was on every part of the property,” he said.

“We let down the end burn and we just protected the house and the sheds.

“In Rainbow Flat we lost our fire station. There was a lot of loss in the community.”

Mr Cavanough said when he spotted the fire approaching his house, he had to act quickly to make sure his family and pets were safe.

“I probably had half an hour from when I spotted the fire to when all my yard was on fire,” he said.

“We evacuated in the morning, got rid of the animals, got rid of the kids because we knew if it was going to come we didn’t want to do it last minute.

“We had a fire plan and it worked. We lost some stuff but we’ve still got the house and we’ve still got the sheds.”

'The sky was just orange'

Thousands of residents on Queensland’s sunshine coast are waiting eagerly to return to their homes after evacuating on Friday afternoon.

Erica Bartlett and her husband John said they were nervous to see how their home fared after they evacuated, taking their elderly neighbour and pets with them.

"I seen the fire getting worse and worse and the sky was just orange and I thought this is really bad,” Ms Bartlett said.

“A policeman came to the gate and said you’ve got to go now, you’ve got to go now. 

“The old lady next door can’t drive so we had to grab her and the two dogs and the cat and put what we could in the car.”

Fire trucks are seen lined up at Cooroibah in Noosa Shire, Queensland, Saturday, November 9, 2019. Thousands of residents who were evacuated from Noosa to escape the path of a bushfire are unable to go home. (AAP Image/Rob Maccoll) NO ARCHIVING
Fire trucks ready to tackle the fires at Cooroibah in Queensland
AAP

Nick Welling, said he’s glad he evacuated but is eager to go home once it’s safe.

"Our backyard is right on the Tewantin National park and if the fire got into there we'd have no hope of defending our homes, so we weren't going to stick around for that,” he said.

“We left early, it’s the safe thing to do.”

Additional reporting by AAP

Source SBS News

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