Grandmother of six Vivian Chaplain, 69, died trying to protect her home and animals near Wytaliba
A woman tragically killed in the devastating bushfires on the NSW mid north coast has been remembered by neighbours as a lover of animals and the land.
Dairy cattle farmer Julie Fletcher had her car packed with possessions, ready to evacuate her Johns River property on Friday night.
Sadly, she didn’t make it out in time.
Her body was discovered in a burnt-out building on Saturday afternoon after fires swept through the tiny township near Taree.
Ms Fletcher, 63, was the third person confirmed dead in the raging bushfires that has caused widespread devastation on the New South Wales north coast.
Grandmother of six Vivian Chaplain also died while trying to save her Wytaliba property near Glen Innes while the body of another local, George Nole, was found in a burnt-out car on Saturday morning.
A post-mortem examination will be conducted to confirm Ms Fletcher’s cause of death before police prepare a report for the coroner.
As dozens of firefighter battled blazes near Taree, the body of a woman was found on a property in a nearby township
Friend and neighbour Diny Khan, 63, received a text message from Ms Fletcher on Friday night to say she was putting her possessions in her car and getting ready to go.
She described her neighbour as an animal lover who loved the Angus cattle she raised so much the cows were never sold them to slaughter and died ‘old and happy’.
‘She was just the most incredibly kind and thoughtful lady – what a horrible way to go,’ Ms Khan told the Daily Telegraph.
Neighbour of 10 years Barry Stewart said Ms Fletcher loved the land and the river.
‘She was outgoing, a top community person and always willing to lend a hand,’ he said.
He returned to his property on Saturday morning to find his home unscathed, apart from a few charred fences.
The body of Julie Fletcher was found in a burnt out building on her Wharf Road property near the town of Johns River
The devastating bushfires on the NSW mid north coast have tragically claimed the lives of two women and a man so far
At least 150 homes have been lost in the NSW bushfires, including this one in Old Bar on the NSW mid north coast
The latest confirmed fatality comes after grandmother-of-six Vivian Chaplain also lost her life as more than 90 bushfires rage across New South Wales and Queensland, destroying 150 homes and burning whole towns.
Ms Chaplain, 69, died trying to protect her home and animals near Wytaliba, northwest of Coffs Harbour.
She was found about 7pm on Friday after a blaze ripped through her property near Glen Innes, unconscious and suffering horrific burns to 40-50 per cent of her body.
Firefighters and paramedics gave her first aid and CPR for hours at the burned-out property until she could be rushed to hospital, but she died on Saturday morning.
Ms Chaplain became trapped when her property was cut off and the wooden bridge into her area burned and collapsed. Her family desperately tried to reach her but couldn’t get through.
‘Our shed paddock is on fire Viv is alone can some one help, anyone please… boys are on the way down if they can get through,’ her daughter-in-law Chrystal Harwood said in a desperate plea on Facebook on Friday.
‘The RFS can’t get to her they are trying… the road down is a tunnel of fire.’
At least 100 homes have been destroyed and a body has been found in a burnt-out car as more than a dozen bushfires rage across New South Wales (pictured bushfire near Taree on state’s mid-north coast)
More than 30 people have been injured in the fires. Pictured are the remains of a boarding kennel in Taree on Saturday
NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said of the more than 30 injuries, 19 were to firefighters and 16 to members of the public (remains of the boarding kennels at Taree pictured)
The remains of a B Double trailer were left smouldering on the Pacific Highway south of Taree after bushfires swept through
A charred tree lay across the Pacific Highway on Saturday morning as the burnt-out bush smoldered by the roadside
Later Ms Harwood said Ms Chaplain was found, but badly burned, and on Saturday morning she broke the sad news that she had died in hospital.
‘We just felt so helpless trying to get to her. I was the last person to speed to her she was in a panic,’ she told Nine news.
‘She was in an absolutely panic. She said, ‘there’s fire everywhere, I need the boys here now.’
‘Before I even got to tell her to just get out, she’d hung up on me. I couldn’t get back to her. I tried so many times.
Ms Harwood remembered her mother-in-law as an ‘amazing, strong loving woman.’
‘The loss of her has devastated our family. There was nothing we could do. She was stuck and we couldn’t get to her,’ Ms Harwood said.
A firefighter discovered the body of fellow Wytaliba local George Nole in a burnt-out car on Old Grafton Road in Diehard on Saturday morning at the Kangawalla fire near Glen Innes.
‘This is devastating, George was such a beautiful man. Such a tragedy,’ another local wrote.
Sharon Ashby (right), her son Nicholas and their two dogs Dexter and Cinnamon had to flee their Old Bar home
A water bombing plane drops fire retardant on a fire in Harrington at the mouth of the Manning River on NSW north coast
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned that the death toll was likely to climb and that the dire bushfire situation was far from over, with temperatures forecast to soar into the high 30s on Tuesday.
“We are going to be going into another bad weather day on Tuesday – a weather day that will be somewhat akin to what we saw [on Friday],” Comm. Fitzsimmons said.
‘Clearly, given the enormity of the occasion, and the events of yesterday and already some of the compelling information that’s coming from these fire grounds, we need to be attuned to the fact that we could see more casualty and more loss.’
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the state was ‘not through the worst’ of the devastating bushfires and that with seven people unaccounted for the could be more deaths.
‘There are at least seven people unaccounted for and I’m sorry to say that number can increase during the day,’ she said.
‘Our thoughts and prayers of course go to the families and loved ones of those two deceased persons.’
Premier Berejiklian praised the work of volunteer firefighters risking their lives to battle the out-of-control blazes, and thanked other states for sending resources to help.
Harrowing footage obtained by Seven News has emerged shows a man helplessly watching in despair as his home Rainbow Flat near Taree was gutted by a raging bushfire.
The devastated occupant can do nothing but watch on as his home is engulfed by flames and smoke before parts of the roof collapse.
Despite firefighters quickly arriving on scene to battle the blaze, their desperate attempts to save the home from extensive damage are in vain.
More than 150 homes in NSW have been lost so far.
The aftermath of a fire that ripped across a highway in rural NSW, destroying a truck its driver was forced to abandon
Trucks gathered at Taree Service Centre as smoke billows from a bushfire at Taree on Friday
Massive clouds of billowing smoke are visible from thousands of metres in the air where this plane was flying overhead on Saturday
Reddestone RFS was one of three trucks to make it into the Wytaliba community on Friday before the bridge burned
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said there was ‘no sugar-coating’ that the state was going to have a ‘bad week’ with bushfires, but that it had the tools and people to confront the threat.
‘Some of [the volunteer firefighters] are actually having their own homes at risk at the moment,’ he said.
‘They have walked away from protecting their own homes to protect the homes of those that they may not even know.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised $1,000 for every person affected by the fire and $400 per child.
‘Our main thoughts and prayers are with those that have been so directly and horribly impacted by these fires,’ he said on Saturday afternoon.
‘Those who have lost loved ones and those who will loan they have lost loved ones in the not too distant future. Those who have lost homes, those who are sitting in the smaller ruins of properties that once stood, they are the ones that Australians will be thinking of today.
‘I want them to be assured of the kindness, love and support of their fellow Australians and that the government’s will be doing anything they can, not just to relieve them from this immediate situation but to be there and the recovery in the weeks and months and years ahead.
Mr Morrison also noted that Western Australia was on high alert for bushfires as the weather conditions there meant one could break out and quickly spread at any time.
This satellite image from Saturday shows a build up of smoke and heat over the NSW mid north coast devastated by bushfires
Some volunteer firefighters left their own homes, which were also under threat from the fires, to protect those of complete strangers
Firefighters work to contain a bushfire along Old Bar road in Old Bar, NSW, on Saturday – one of 70 fires still burning
Embers from a tree are seen burning as the fires rage on throughout NSW’s coastal towns
Hot windy conditions have seen bushfires wreak havoc throughout the state (pictured fire in Woodford in the Blue Mountains, NSW)
A terrifying audio recording captured the moment five NSW RFS volunteers were trapped by three fire fronts in the Taree region of the state’s mid-north coast.
‘We have been trapped by a falling tree, over,’ the firefighters could be heard saying over the service’s emergency radio before narrowly escaping the advancing flames by driving over the tree.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the situation was going to get worse because weather ideal for bushfires was forecast over the next week.
He also warned that the drought across much of NSW, and expected weather in coming months, meant the state was looking at a catastrophic fire season.
‘Not only is it about next week, but, unfortunately, the forecast for the balance of the season continues to be driven by above-normal temperatures, below-average rainfall, to dominate over the coming months,’ he said.
‘If you put that across this extremely drought-stricken landscape, where you have no moisture in the ground… a flammability of the fuel which is seeing extraordinary fire behaviour, fire spreading and burning very intensely, very aggressively… with spot fire activity doubling or tripling what would normally be expected in the conditions that we have been experiencing.
Residents evacuate themselves and their animals to a park in Old Bar as the fire moves in on the small town
LPG cylinders are seen after being moved away from a service station by firefighters along Old Bar road in Old Bar, NSW
Massive plumes of smoke are visible from space and some of the smoke has made it all the way to New Zealand
Firefighters work to save a house as they contain a bushfire along Old Bar road in Old Bar, NSW
A water bombing helicopter attacks a bushfire near houses along Old Bar road in Old Bar, NSW
‘The flammability, the lack of moisture in the vegetation, is making it so susceptible to ignition, that many embers are leading well ahead of the main fire front, taking hold, starting fires, and rapidly accelerating the movement of fire across the landscape and into different communities.
‘The risk is real, the risk is here, the consequences are absolutely apparent and evident over the last few weeks and particularly highlighted in the last 24 hours.
‘We have got the worst of our fire season still ahead of us. We’re not even in summer yet.’
The fires have been burning through various NSW towns on Friday night with the blaze expected to last for hours to come
Bushfires are burning close to homes in Woodford (pictured) on Friday night with fires expected to continue into the night
The NSW Rural Fire Service issued said 12 ’emergency warnings’ (pictured in red) were still in place for blazes from the Blue Mountains to the Queensland border
Crews from the NSW RFS are conducting property protection as the blaze continues to burn through houses on Railway Parade in Woodford, NSW (pictured)
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said of the more than 30 injuries, 19 were to firefighters and 16 to members of the public.
He said firefighters were dealing with a very dynamic, volatile and dangerous set of circumstances.
‘We are in uncharted territory… we’ve never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level,’ he said.
Carol Sparks, mayor of Glen Innes, where both victims were killed, lost her own home and described the devastation the town went through so soon after other bushfires hit the area.
‘The school was lost, [houses] were burnt, people were burnt, lives were lost.People battled to save their houses and then had to walk out because their cars had blown up, it was just horrific,’ she told the ABC.
The fire in Glen Innes is so bad that 164 minimum-security inmates had to be evacuated from the local jail to Grafton.
‘Staff from Glen Innes, Grafton and our Security Operations Group did an outstanding job under such circumstances to ensure everyone’s safety,’ NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said.
Grafton prisoners stayed locked in their cells and the evacuated Glen Innes inmates were housed in other parts of the jail.
Smoke from the raging bushfires was visible as far away as Tuncurry, on the NSW Mid North Coast on Saturday
The billowing smoke was an eerie contrast to the crystal blue water and otherwise cloudless sky
Fire chiefs warned the situation was going to get worse because weather ideal for bushfires was forecast over the next week
A visitor to the Mt Coottha lookout is seen as smoke haze as a result of bushfires blankets central Brisbane
NSW Rural Fire Service personnel conduct property protection as a bushfire burns in Woodford
A firefighter is seen on the job as the RFS conduct property protection at Woodford, as bushfires ravage the state
A resident hoses smouldering logs at property in Woodford, where hot, windy conditions have wreaked havoc
There are currently 15 fires burning at emergency levels across NSW as firefighters work hard to control the blaze
A school in Bobin has reportedly been destroyed with as many as 20 houses as more than 1000 firefighters try to battle the blazes throughout NSW
Residents watch on as a bushfire burns in Woodford, New South Wales, on Friday
Firefighters and trucks are seen during conduct property protection, as fires ravage New South Wales
A firefighter from the RFS runs down the road during bushfires in NSW. A firetruck is seen in the background
Residents watch on as an Aircrane water bombing helicopter flies by their property in Harrington
The sun is seen through heavy smoke as a bushfire burns in Woodford on Friday afternoon
A water tanker airplane drops fire retardant on a bushfire in Harrington on Friday
More than 90 fires were burning on Friday evening, with the NSW Rural Fire Service issuing 16 ’emergency warnings’ for blazes from the Blue Mountains to the Queensland border
Smoke from the fires raging across the New South Wales mid-north coast and up towards the Queensland border could be seen from space
A shocking photo showed the streets of Grafton clouded in a thick red haze as more than a dozen fires rage across the state
Mr West said a fire near Forster threatened a council building on Thursday night.
‘It was literally a wall of yellow, horrible, beastly, tormenting flames,’ the mayor said.
‘It was a horrendous beast.’
The mayor – who lives in Brimbin – is particularly concerned about an out-of-control fire burning near Hillville south of Taree.
The Pacific Highway was on Friday closed in both directions between Taree and Bulahdelah, and in Port Macquarie between the Oxley Highway and Hastings River Drive.
‘It (the Hillville fire) moving toward the coast at a fairly rapid rate,’ Mr West said.
‘The area that I live in hasn’t been burned in about 30 years. There’s a huge amount of fuel load.’
A number of schools have been closed in the area due to the bushfires.
MidCoast Council deputy mayor Claire Pontin – who lives in nearby Hallidays Point – says the area is ‘tinder dry’.
‘It’s just crispy. In places, you can hear the leaves crunching under your feet.’
An Aircrane water bombing helicopter drops water on a bushfires in Harrington, 335km north east of Sydney, on Friday
A mayor on the state’s mid-north coast said the bushfires ripping through the region were ‘horrifying and horrendous beasts’ (pictured aerial video of a bushfire at Harrington near Port Macquarie)
A still image from an aerial video showed bushfires engulfing the highway north of Tuncurry, near the town of Forster
Out of control flames were snapped from a nearby residential area in Harrington
Dust was expected to be blown across much of the state’s northeast on Friday with the Central Coast and Newcastle areas the worst affected (fire at Harrington pictured)