Fireys and residents run from ‘blinding fireball’
A fireball exploding through the undergrowth threatened to consume all - but in the eerie, blackened aftermath, Anthony Hayter's home is still standing.
The 58 year-old retired sawmiller's property in Orangeville was directly in the path of the ferocious Green Wattle Creek bushfire as it roared through the edge of Sydney's southwest on Thursday night.
Breaking out in Yerranderie on Thursday morning before crossing Lake Burragorang and threatening Nattai and Burragorang, Mr Hayter, a former deputy captain of the local Werombi fire unit, watched the flames steadily approach throughout the afternoon with hoses at the ready.
"There was no way I was going to leave. My friends and family came to help soak the property, we saturated the house and the sheds, flooded the gutters and my late wife's acre of gardens," Mr Hayter said.
"I'd been prepared all week. A friend picked up all my photos and legal documents to take them somewhere safe, and I moved my caravan out to the caravan park so I'd have somewhere to live if the house went."
But it's no miracle Mr Hayter's home escaped unscathed. Nine fire trucks crowded onto his rural property as the blaze approached, culminating in a blinding fireball that had firefighters and residents 'running for cover.'
"It was like nothing we'd ever seen before. The embers were like hail, the flames were so bright and fast, crowning at the tops of the trees. The grass was alight, we had to run back but you just didn't know where to run," he said of the Emergency Warning-level inferno which hit at around 7pm.
"I was so lost, I couldn't see the house through the smoke. I thought it was done for, and we'd have to go and jump in the pool and wait it out."
Flames roared over the top of the property, but the heavy RFS presence kept the worst at bay, and the 'blinding, unfathomable' fire passed around and over the property to bear further east. Mr Hayter and the firefighters alike were kept busy into the night with two more flare ups from the southerly change later in the evening.
"As soon as it arrived, it was gone. We kept it to the containment lines with our bucket brigade, plus plenty of hoses. The second and third waves weren't half as bad as the first, but it was still pretty nerve-racking with all the spot fires and ember attacks."
Fire crews remained in the area until five o'clock on Friday morning before the all clear was sounded, and Mr Hayter sent his loved ones home to rest before assessing the damage. Three of his sheds were lost, including a workshop used by his son to make furniture and a lean-to for camping on the property.
"It was the worst fire I've seen in my life. Worse than the ones in 2001, and I stayed for that. The fireys couldn't believe it either - they were taking photos every chance they got, they were just dumbfounded by it."
But even overwhelmed by just how close he came to tragedy, Mr Hayter is counting his blessings. His house still stands, and after the drought forced him to sell off the rest of his stock of Galloway cows, his final steer, a family pet, survived.
"I'm beyond grateful for the fireys - I don't know why I deserved so much attention, with nine fire trucks, but without them I would've been done for. I'm certain this won't be the last time I see fire this summer, I couldn't have asked for better."