Hannah Lillywhite was living her ‘dream life’, until an out of control bushfire raged through the property she and her fiance bought just weeks earlier, taking everything they owned.
Ms Lillywhite, 30, and her partner Mat Weir, were planning to build their dream home on 13 acres of land in West Bungawalbin, about 50km south of Lismore in northern NSW.
They’d moved on to the property about three weeks ago, living in a caravan they had lovingly restored, before fire razed everything to the ground, taking all of their possessions with it.
Ms Lillywhite told Daily Mail Australia the fire traveled 12 kilometres in under 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, leaving them with just moments to grab their dogs and get out.
Bushfires raging across northern NSW in recent days have destroyed at least 21 homes, with some of the fires deliberately lit.
Hannah Lillywhite and her partner Mat Weir (pictured) had moved onto their newly purchased 13 acres of forestland in the Northern Rivers region just three weeks ago
The couple lost everything on Tuesday, when an out of control bushfire ravaged the property (pictured is the caravan the couple were living in while they built their dream home on the property)
The couple had been burying Ms Lillywhite’s pet rabbit, who died from the heat and smoke, when their neighbour Linda sprinted on to the property to tell them to go.
‘Linda ran over and she was crying, saying ‘if you’re gonna get out, you’ve gotta go now – the fire is right behind our house’,’ Ms Lillywhite said.
‘We could barely breathe, we just panicked. Mat started chucking things on the ute tray like our passports and I grabbed the dogs.
‘As we pulled out of the property onto the laneway, the fire was just 100m away. It was really scary, absolutely terrifying.’
The couple had just hit the main road when a message was broadcast saying it was too late to evacuate – they had got out just in time.
As they drove away, fire raged through the area, taking homes, livestock and cars.
‘There were families on the side of the road [on Tuesday], who had lost everything and they didn’t know where to go,’ Ms Lillywhite said.
‘We heard of people who didn’t have time to get their animals off the property – they just had to open the gates and hope.
‘Our next door neighbour had tried to leave with her children, but the fire had already cut off their property, so they had to go back and fight for their house.
‘We lost everything, we literally got out with the clothes on our back.’
Ms Lillywhite and Mr Weir had only moments to get out before they were trapped, so all they could grab was their two dogs and small things like their passports
When they returned home the next morning, Ms Lillywhite said smoke and fire was still spewing from the trees, as they came crashing down around them
The couple fled in Mr Weir’s ute, leaving Ms Lillywhite’s car behind (pictured)
The couple are now fundraising to rebuild their lives, as they both work for themselves, and lost equipment necessary for them to work in the fire
Ms Lillywhite and Mr Weir headed to her mum’s house in Ballina, where they spent a sleepless night thinking of the family photographs and precious mementos they had lost.
The couple raced back to their home on Wednesday morning to see if anything could be salvaged, and were left devastated by what they saw.
‘The ground was thick with white ash, and the trees were burning like volcanoes, spewing fire out the top of them,’ Ms Lillywhite said.
‘Every 10 minutes or so, you’d hear this creaking and then a bang. It was just trees going down.
‘I’m just rattled, I’m just in shock, it doesn’t feel real. Every time you get in the car and try to go home it hits again – it’s all gone. We don’t have a home.’
An even bigger problem is both Mr Weir, a painter, and Ms Lillywhite, a cheesemaker, work for themselves – and all of the equipment they need to work was taken by the fire.
‘Not only has it taken our home, it’s taken our ability to make money, to rebuild,’ she said.
Her family have launched a GoFundMe for the couple, to help them purchase equipment they need for work, as well as other life essentials.
Ms Lillywhite and Mr Weir have been living in their beloved caravan (pictured) for two years as they saved to buy their plot of land
The couple restored the interior of the caravan, building everything themselves, and are devastated to have lost it
The oven could be seen on top of the rubble pile where the remains of the caravan lay on Wednesday morning
Ms Lillywhite said she was immensely grateful to the local community, who had rallied around her and her partner in their time of desperate need
Ms Lillywhite said while the experience has been devastating, she and her fiance were able to put a positive spin on things.
‘We were just about to build [our home] – there is a silver lining in that we hadn’t put anything on the ground yet,’ she said.
She said the community had rallied around her and Mr Weir, with an op-shop in Ballina donating bags of clothes to the couple, a nearby publican donating a few free beers, and locals all jumping in to help those affected.
As the fire burned, locals were running to their neighbour’s homes, making sure they got out in time, or had a plan in place to stay.
In the aftermath, everyone was checked in on, with locals ensuring everyone had accommodation and food.
As she sat in the pub, Ms Lillywhite said a woman told her: ‘Australians show their best side when it comes to disaster, it brings out the best in everyone.’
She and Mr Weir are now working to rebuild. The couple are looking for a caravan to live in while they clear the ash off their land and start their lives again.
Ms Lillywhite said as she sat in the pub, a woman told her: ‘Australians show their best side when it comes to disaster, it brings out the best in everyone’