The fierce heat, the rapacious flames and the carnage left in their wake.
Each new fire in our land crackles with memories of others; Black Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Ash Wednesday …
On January 15, well over 100 fires burned across New South Wales.
Coonabarabran was battling the most destructive fire in our state for more than a decade.
On January 17, Ross Wakeley joined other chaplains from the Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network at the local bowling club, the area’s disaster centre.
Journal snippets reveal a sliver of what he saw:
Thursday: Dave (one of the chaplains) takes me on a recon run along Timor Road. Hillsides are vacant. White ash lies in piles, hinting at the ferocity of the fire. I hear of property items vaporising and aluminium windows turning to a puddle of metal.
Later, at the 400-strong community briefing, Rural Fire Service, police, primary industries, disaster recovery, Essential Energy all gave updates. People felt informed in the midst of their powerlessness.
The day before, at a combined churches prayer meeting, people prayed for rain and for one another. Stunned, shocked, frightened; but clinging to God for help.
Friday: At the recovery centre, people look okay on first blush, but chat and get below the surface and they are pretty fragile.
Then the news turns bad. Fifty-one homes are now lost. Overnight, the fire jumped containment lines. Smoke billows up blotting out the sun.
We chaplains chat to multitudes, hand out water and Mars bars, and provide a friendly face.
Rod and Jenny recently moved to acreage on Timor Road. The radiant heat on Sunday was so intense it came through the steel container holding their possessions and ignited their furniture. They’ve lost everything and didn’t have insurance.
Saturday: The shower overnight slowed the fire and raised humidity levels.
A cleaner at the National Parks campsite breaks down when shown pictures of the facilities gone and animals dead.
We tell Rod and Jenny we’ve just heard Samaritan’s Purse has a shovel/rake/mattock and work gloves for every family. Jenny sheds tears. Rod’s overwhelmed.
They, along with dozens of other families, will take months or years to get over this.
But they will.
Marjorie Lewis-Jones with thanks to Ross for sharing his story (with the names of residents changed to protect confidentiality). To give to the Synod’s or the Uniting Church Assembly’s bushfire appeals visit www.nsw.uca.org.au
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