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Sudden change of wind sent fire to Rainbow Flat – where locals took refuge in a petrol station

Residents have been left without their homes and the Rural Fire Service has lost their base after a sudden change of wind sent an inferno straight into a small community in New South Wales.  

Rainbow Flat, north of Tuncurry, was one of the worst affected neighbourhoods as fires ripped through the mid north coast on Friday afternoon. 

Many in the quiet town say this is the worst catastrophe they’ve seen, and others aren’t sure how they’ll ever rebuild. 

Daily Mail Australia visited Rainbow Flat to see the path of destruction left by the inferno, and spoke with residents who fought as long as they could to try and save their homes. 

Pictured: Gwenda and Keith Duncan’s destroyed home on Sunday morning. They have not even been able to visit their home

Pictured: The Duncan's home is seen before fires ripped through Rainbow Flat, north of Tuncurry, on the Mid North Coast

Pictured: The Duncan’s home is seen before fires ripped through Rainbow Flat, north of Tuncurry, on the Mid North Coast

The Duncan's charred family car is pictured at the front of the family's property on Sunday after it was destroyed by fires

The Duncan’s charred family car is pictured at the front of the family’s property on Sunday after it was destroyed by fires

Daily Mail Australia speaks to Gwenda Duncan (right), who will go to Ballarat with her husband in the wake of the fire, to seek shelter with their daughter

Daily Mail Australia speaks to Gwenda Duncan (right), who will go to Ballarat with her husband in the wake of the fire, to seek shelter with their daughter

Pictured: The bare remains of a home in Rainbow Flat on Sunday after bushfires ravaged the area on Friday afternoon

Pictured: The bare remains of a home in Rainbow Flat on Sunday after bushfires ravaged the area on Friday afternoon

Mark Johnson, who lives on Koorainghat Close, was one of the residents who came home on Sunday to find he’d lost his home.

Meanwhile in the house next door, father-of-two Daniel stayed behind and managed to save his entire property.

He was helped by 62-year-old Keith Duncan, who, while helping Daniel, watched as the flames licked closer to his own home, before eventually setting the whole place alight.

‘We knew what to do,’ Mr Duncan’s wife, Gwenda, told Daily Mail Australia from her mother’s retirement home.

‘We took all the right precautions and we thought we were safe. We cleared everything and had neighbours who didn’t, but theirs survived and ours didn’t.’

Residents have been left without their homes and the Rural Fire Service have lost their base (pictured: a destroyed home in Rainbow Flat)

Residents have been left without their homes and the Rural Fire Service have lost their base (pictured: a destroyed home in Rainbow Flat)

Daily Mail Australia reporter with Col Meredith, who stayed to protect his home as fires ravaged the community

Daily Mail Australia reporter with Col Meredith, who stayed to protect his home as fires ravaged the community 

Mrs Duncan said they were hoping the fire would die down of a night – as they usually do – which would give them a chance to go back, collect all their valuable possessions and head out again.

‘But we never got that option,’ she said.

The fires in Rainbow Flat have been unpredictable at best.

They initially appeared to be sparing the small township all together, passing through across the road and down the street, but never close enough to panic.

A burnt out van and car is pictured at a property in Rainbow Flat, in northern New South Wales, on Sunday morning

A burnt out van and car is pictured at a property in Rainbow Flat, in northern New South Wales, on Sunday morning 

Col Meredith (pictured) chose to stay and fight the fires that were surrounding his 150 acre property on Friday

Col Meredith (pictured) chose to stay and fight the fires that were surrounding his 150 acre property on Friday 

Pictured: a burnt out van and shipping container is seen at Rainbow Flat on Sunday after fires tore through the area

Pictured: a burnt out van and shipping container is seen at Rainbow Flat on Sunday after fires tore through the area 

Mr Johnson said at 3pm on Friday, he was so certain that he was safe that he sat on his back porch and read a book.

The porch was nothing but rubble the following day.

A south easterly change in the direction of the wind changed this community’s lives. 

‘The direction of the wind pushed the fire back toward them at a rate of 45km an hour and was a ’10 metre wide wall,’ Mr Johnson said.

A peacock is seen running through the remains of the ravaged Duncan family home on Sunday morning

A peacock is seen running through the remains of the ravaged Duncan family home on Sunday morning

Pictured: Ashes and dust remain at the Duncan house, after their home was destroyed in bushfires over the weekend

Pictured: Ashes and dust remain at the Duncan house, after their home was destroyed in bushfires over the weekend

The residents didn’t have long to decide between fighting or fleeing.

Those that chose to stay eventually found themselves stuck in the town’s service station, way down the road, surrounded by flames from each direction.

It was the work of five separate fire trucks that saved their lives.

‘At least 20 of them would’ve died if it weren’t for those fire fighters,’ Mrs Duncan said.

Mr and Mrs Duncan - who have both been volunteer members of the local Rural Fire Service for 16 years - fought to protect their home as long as they could, before they were forced to seek safety with their pets, a dog named Buddy and two cats. Pictured: Gwenda Duncan

Mr and Mrs Duncan – who have both been volunteer members of the local Rural Fire Service for 16 years – fought to protect their home as long as they could, before they were forced to seek safety with their pets, a dog named Buddy and two cats. Pictured: Gwenda Duncan

Pictured: Melted metal from a tin shed is seen oozing onto the concrete after intense bushfires ravaged through Rainbow Flat

Pictured: Melted metal from a tin shed is seen oozing onto the concrete after intense bushfires ravaged through Rainbow Flat

Destroyed remains from burned down homes in Rainbow Flat were seen on Sunday as residents went to view what was left of their properties

Destroyed remains from burned down homes in Rainbow Flat were seen on Sunday as residents went to view what was left of their properties

Pictured: Remnants from the Duncan family home are seen sprawled along the ground in the wake of the fire

Pictured: Remnants from the Duncan family home are seen sprawled along the ground in the wake of the fire

Mr and Mrs Duncan – who have both been volunteer members of the local Rural Fire Service for 16 years – fought to protect their home as long as they could, before they were forced to seek safety with their pets, a dog named Buddy and two cats.  

‘My husband and about 20 other locals stayed to fight the fires. They saved a couple of the homes but ours and one of our neighbours was definitely gone when they were forced back and out,’ Ms Duncan said. 

The couple are now homeless, and told Daily Mail Australia they were unable to insure their home as the fire approached.

‘We tried to insure everything recently,’ Ms Duncan said. 

Daily Mail Australia visited Rainbow Flat to see what the destruction has left behind, including the remains of a bike pictured

Daily Mail Australia visited Rainbow Flat to see what the destruction has left behind, including the remains of a bike pictured

Burnt remains of a home and a caravan are pictured on a property that was stripped down by fires over the weekend

Burnt remains of a home and a caravan are pictured on a property that was stripped down by fires over the weekend

‘But they put a fire embargo on so we couldn’t. We’ve just lost a $1.1 million home. We’ve lost everything.

‘I said to my husband yesterday, you know, we’re standing here holding hands, which is something we are lucky to have.’

‘Maybe we’ll start with a caravan, and then build a shed and then slowly get a home again. We have the land, just no dwelling yet.’

The couple have three children, two of which are based in Victoria. They’re planning on going down to spend time with their daughter, Samantha, her husband and the six children they share.

Mark Johnson, who lives on Koorainghat Close, was one of the residents who came home on Sunday to find he'd lost his home (pictured)

Mark Johnson, who lives on Koorainghat Close, was one of the residents who came home on Sunday to find he’d lost his home (pictured) 

Mr Johnson's house at 13 Koorainghat Close is pictured before the blaze tore through Rainbow Flat on Friday

Mr Johnson’s house at 13 Koorainghat Close is pictured before the blaze tore through Rainbow Flat on Friday

There were a few remaining brick walls still standing at the destroyed Duncan family home, pictured after the fires

There were a few remaining brick walls still standing at the destroyed Duncan family home, pictured after the fires

‘We’ll go down there, get some cuddles and some love and then come back and figure out what to do.’

After speaking to the couple, Daily Mail Australia visited their home – which they don’t have any access to – to check if anything had survived.

Five peacocks – which Mrs Duncan said she had been breeding for more than 20 years – survived and were hidden under the remains of the garage. Two roosters also survived.

Despite the tragedy, the couple are adamant they’ll rebuild their lives and make new memories.

A brand new house managed to remain unscathed during the fires, while others were reduced to rubble

A brand new house managed to remain unscathed during the fires, while others were reduced to rubble 

The Rainbow Flat Rural Fire Brigade (pictured) was partially destroyed during the bushfires over the weekend

The Rainbow Flat Rural Fire Brigade (pictured) was partially destroyed during the bushfires over the weekend

A burnt shed is seen with disfigured and burnt walls pictured in the wake of bushfires at Rainbow Flat

A burnt shed is seen with disfigured and burnt walls pictured in the wake of bushfires at Rainbow Flat

‘We’re going to stay strong. We’re going to rebuild and we don’t know how, and we don’t know with what but we will.

In amongst the rubble was the couple’s trailer and ride-on mower, both of which were still salvageable.

‘I’m just so glad we haven’t lost everything,’ Mrs Duncan said through tears when she heard the news.

‘We love our animals so much, they’re like family. It means everything to us to know that some of them survived.’

Pictured: The remains of the Rainbow Flat Rural Fire Brigade after the insane blaze tore through on Friday

Pictured: The remains of the Rainbow Flat Rural Fire Brigade after the insane blaze tore through on Friday

A shed is seen destroyed in the background at a property in Rainbow Flat, with surfboards are seen destroyed on the ground

A shed is seen destroyed in the background at a property in Rainbow Flat, with surfboards are seen destroyed on the ground

Daily Mail Australia towed the couple’s few remaining possessions back to the Taree retirement village for them to take with them to Ballarat, where they’ll be staying with their daughter until they feel like they can return to survey the damage. 

While Mr and Mrs Duncan have been unsuccessful in trying to get back to their home, a couple of their neighbours snuck through the road blocks to keep an eye on smaller ember fires that were burning.

The residents have also comforted those who realised they were returning to the charred remains of what was once their home.  

Meanwhile, other homes in the street managed to escape entirely unscathed.

Residents have lost their homes and the Rural Fire Service lost their base during the fires (pictured)

Residents have lost their homes and the Rural Fire Service lost their base during the fires (pictured)

Daily Mail Australia reporter Brittany Chain on the scene in Rainbow Flat on Sunday, assessing the remains of the bushfires

Daily Mail Australia reporter Brittany Chain on the scene in Rainbow Flat on Sunday, assessing the remains of the bushfires

Some homes remain in pristine condition while those next door have been reduced to a pile of rubble.

A small scarecrow child sitting on a swing leading up to a home – which survived the blaze – was charred right through, still swinging in the breeze. 

Further down the road toward Tuncurry, Col Meredith also chose to stay and fight the fires that were surrounding his 150 acre property.

Throughout Saturday evening and well into Sunday morning, the deafening sound of falling trees was all he could hear.

Shots of the Pacific Highway in Rainbow Flat, showing a speed sign that was destroyed during the fires

Shots of the Pacific Highway in Rainbow Flat, showing a speed sign that was destroyed during the fires

Fallen down trees block the roads near Rainbow Flat, on the Mid North Coast, following the horrific bushfires over the weekend

Fallen down trees block the roads near Rainbow Flat, on the Mid North Coast, following the horrific bushfires over the weekend

About midnight, he thought he heard an explosion. On Sunday morning, he learned it was his neighbours property burning to the ground.

‘The home owner has dementia I think. She lives here with her son, but they’re away on holidays at the moment. This will kill them.

‘I don’t want to be the one to break it to them, everything is gone.’

Boats, spas, cars and garages were all burnt to a crisp before a stray ember fire set the house alight.

A small scarecrow child sitting on a swing leading up to a home - which survived the blaze - was charred right through, still swinging in the breeze

A small scarecrow child sitting on a swing leading up to a home – which survived the blaze – was charred right through, still swinging in the breeze

A radio can be seen completely destroyed and melted due to the flames that tore through Rainbow Flat on Friday

A radio can be seen completely destroyed and melted due to the flames that tore through Rainbow Flat on Friday

The son fixes up boats, Mr Meredith said, meaning there were stray gas bottles everywhere.

‘They’re a time bomb,’ he said.

‘I came down yesterday to save what I could when the fire started heading through my property. I wanted to save the boat but I couldn’t do it on my own.’

Mr Meredith was also watching over another neighbour’s property, who also wasn’t home. He was feeding their livestock and trying to keep the property safe.

Gwenda told Daily Mail Australia: 'We took all the right precautions and we thought we were safe. We cleared everything and had neighbours who didn't, but theirs survived and ours didn't.'

Gwenda told Daily Mail Australia: ‘We took all the right precautions and we thought we were safe. We cleared everything and had neighbours who didn’t, but theirs survived and ours didn’t.’

The Rural Fire Service lost their base (pictured) during fires over the weekend, with only a few walls left standing

The Rural Fire Service lost their base (pictured) during fires over the weekend, with only a few walls left standing

‘This time yesterday this home was solid as. I heard the explosion from my property around the back.

‘I feel a bit guilty that this fire came through my 150 acre property and left it unscathed but ripped through their home and destroyed everything.’

Mr Meredith said he knew as soon as the fires started approaching he would stay.

Most neighbours fled, but now they’re relying on him to check on their properties since they’re not allowed back in.

Five peacocks - which Mrs Duncan said she had been breeding for more than 20 years - survived and were hidden under the remains of the garage. Two roosters also survived

Five peacocks – which Mrs Duncan said she had been breeding for more than 20 years – survived and were hidden under the remains of the garage. Two roosters also survived

Shipping containers and cars were also seen in the area burnt to a crisp, with some still smoking, after the fires

Shipping containers and cars were also seen in the area burnt to a crisp, with some still smoking, after the fires

 ‘I’m not going anywhere because once you go past the blockade you can’t get back. F**k that. I’m also worried about looters,’ Mr Meredith said. 

Despite remaining calm and doing what he can to protect his home and those around him, he said it was the worst he’d experienced in his four years in the bush.

‘It was unbelievable – nothing I’ve ever seen before. This is going to take years to recover… This is something you’ll never forget.’   

The nearby Pacific Highway was closed due to the damages, including fallen trees and burnt signage

The nearby Pacific Highway was closed due to the damages, including fallen trees and burnt signage

Homes across Rainbow Flat were completely destroyed over the weekend, with fences melted and some with few walls left standing

Homes across Rainbow Flat were completely destroyed over the weekend, with fences melted and some with few walls left standing

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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