“All I could hear while we drove off was glass breaking and gas bottles exploding,” Tathra’s Doug Spindler says while shaking his head.
The NSW south coast local had just doused a spot fire in his backyard on Sunday when the main fire front – which destroyed almost 100 houses, caravans and cabins – turned toward the Spindler family residence.
Mr Spindler loaded his wife and three boys, who all have cerebral palsy, into the car along with the family cat Patches. They took nothing else and fled the home Doug had lived in for almost 30 years.
“It sounded like a freight train when it hit us,” he told AAP on Monday while watching nervous and exhausted residents huddle in an evacuation centre at Bega Showgrounds.
Charities have been handing out bundles of bedding, toiletries, food and water inside the old woolshed.
Chaplains are moving through the crowd with cups of tea. One pulled up a plastic school chair next to a fidgeting older couple.
Mr Spindler, a former SES volunteer, says he’s “eternally grateful” to the emergency services who helped his family survive Sunday’s fire.
But, with exclusion zones still around the burning town, he’s come to the evacuation centre to find out additional information aside from what he’d gleaned from looping news footage.
“The worst part is we just don’t know if the house is still standing – aside from television or the internet we are really relying on word of mouth for information,” Mr Spindler said.
The last time the area around Tathra caught fire was 1952, he said, adding the bushland was thick with tinder and waiting for a spark.
“That lot is the same – just dense national park,” he says pointing to a ridge on the edge of Bega.
Just behind it, a plume of grey smoke rises up over what’s left of Tathra.
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