Tathra bushfire survivors huddled on beach as ‘cyclonic’ winds fanned blaze

Juvette Jory, Jerome Jory and Jason Davis after escaping the  Tathra fire.

Juvette Jory, Jerome Jory and Jason Davis after escaping the Tathra fire. Photo: Supplied,Steve Jory)

Steve Jory made it back to his home in Tathra, on the New South Wales south coast, in time to pick up his children and a few of the mementoes they had packed.

It was Sunday afternoon and a massive fire had just taken hold of the bush behind his house.

Steve grabbed a couple of fume masks he had, especially for his son Jerome, who has some respiratory problems.

“Then we went straight down to the beach, but even then the smoke, the wind, the heat, the sand blowing was unbelievable,” he said.

Mr Jory’s home, which he had built himself with his wife, was lost in the devastating blaze that authorities say may have destroyed more than 70 houses and other buildings in and around the coastal town.

We lost that house that was a labour of love.”

The family were ushered by police from the beach to the surf club and then escaped in the evening to Bermagui.

Some residents also spent the night at local hotels.

They are not allowed back into the town to check on their homes until the RFS gives the all clear, leaving many of them anxiously waiting to see what has survived.

Desperate search for pets

Victims have begun telling their stories of how they escaped from the blaze. Wendy Whiting, who lives in the small cul-de-sac of Flora Place, was inside her home when her neighbours rushed to tell her to get out.

“So I packed a few things, the cat was the main trouble, couldn’t find him for a while, and I got in the garage and the power was off,” she said.

A burnt out home at Tathra. Photo: ABC

“So then I was trapped in the garage and couldn’t get the car out.”

She said a friend helped her get the garage open and they went to the local surf club to seek shelter, but it was packed and they decided to head for the beach.

“So we got to the beach and it was like a cyclone, the sand hit you in the eyes and it was something terrible.”

They eventually ended up in the Bega evacuation centre after being ordered to leave the town.

She saw the fire approaching her cul-de-sac before she was forced to flee and does not know what has happened to her house.

“It was just coming over the top and Wildlife Drive is all bush and apparently that’s gone, a lot of houses are burnt down there so I don’t know whether ours is gone till I get there,” she said.

Little warning given to flee

Another survivor, Warren Lowrey, was staying at the local caravan park when the fire broke out.

“We were just sitting there, trying to work out what to do and suddenly got the evacuation call, headed to the beach and walked along the beach up to the Bega river, and from there got evacuated to here,” he said.

He said they got pretty close to the fire and only had about 20 minutes before it was almost upon them.

“We could see flames, saw flames coming over the hill, that’s when we got the evacuation call and yep it was time to go.”


Victorian fire devastates farms

When news of the blaze that ripped through Victoria’s south-west filtered through to Brad Gilmour, he was in Melbourne.

By the time he returned home to his farm outside of Terang, the fire had burned for close to another three hours.

Brad Gilmour surveys the damage on his Terang farm. Photo: ABC

The fire blackened 607 hectares of his farm and burned down the shearing shed, outbuildings and every fence.

“It’s shattering to be honest,” he said. “A lifetime’s work is all gone in probably five minutes and it’ll take years to get it all back up again.”

The fires, which authorities believe were sparked by lightning strikes on Saturday night, have burnt through at least 40,000 hectares across Victoria’s south-west.

Mr Gilmour’s own home, about 5 kilometres from the scene of the fire, was untouched but his son’s house was blanketed with smoke. They had to wait before they could survey the damage.

It’s just luck. It’s burnt right up to the edge of the verandah. Burnt the downpipes off the verandah posts, and yet the posts didn’t light. I don’t know how it’s standing”

The focus was now on their livestock, which have been herded into a paddock.

The Gilmours have 700 cattle on their farm, a mixture between Angus cows and Friesian heifers.

“They’re honestly our biggest concern. They’ve got food and water at the moment but their long-term health could be jeopardised,” Mr Gilmour said.

“I’m very confident some of them won’t be able to survive. It’s just, you can’t let them suffer like that, it’d be terrible.”


Topics: Bushfires
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