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This photo was taken by Diana Willis of the fire storm approaching their property. Image: Contributed

Living in the firing line

Lynne Mowbray|

Although facing uncertainty, as the State’s largest fire front was burning along the southern boundary of the property she shares with her partner at Buccarumbi, Diana Willis spent Saturday morning volunteering with the Disabled Surfers Association (DSA) event at Turners Beach, Yamba.

Diana and her partner have been involved in DSA since it began in 2002 and Saturday morning’s event helped to give her something else to focus on, other than the fires.

“We’re caretakers of a 250 acre property which has two houses and a lot of infrastructure on it,” Diana said.

“At the moment this is a waiting game – this is our house and today there are southerlies predicted.

“We’ve already had flames come over the edge of the (nearby) ridge last Sunday (November 10), which was when the firies asked us to evacuate.

“Since then we’ve been living at the evacuation centre at Hawthorne Park, South Grafton, along with over 100 horses that have been brought in, as well as donkeys, cows, poultry – you name it.

“Every type of horse is there, as well as the families of those who have animals (with them). At one point, there were about 80 people there.

“We’ve got our horse, dog and our cat living here with us.

“Luckily some neighbours, who were also evacuated, helped to tow out our caravan for us. We were also able to get the Disabled Surfing Association (DSA) van out, as well as our tractor.

“With southerlies predicted for early this week, the property is literally sitting ‘right in the firing line’.

“It’s the horrible waiting game – not knowing.

“We have been back (to the property) as we’ve got a flock of geese, chickens and guinea fowl that we couldn’t capture, so we’ve put them in the house yard with several pools of water and massive amounts of food under the house.

“We have heard that the firies are water bombing and fire retarding any house on the firing line, so we’re just hoping that ours will be too.

“On the Friday (November 8) I was home alone and I could see this fire ball coming from Nymboida. I could see this smoke plume coming and I knew from my friends at Newton Boyd, that it was so dangerous.

“So we spent the next two nights taking shifts of sleep and we were so tired and it was so smoky.

“Had we have stayed, we would have probably been quite sick. I’m already coughing up stuff, as I’ve gone back to get stuff and check on the animals.

“Going back hasn’t been a problem up until now, but once the fire passes our house and the road is compromised by fire, it’s the falling trees that are the problem. “That’s the danger, that’s what blocks you in and blocks you out. 

“I just hope that if there is still anything alive, that they can manage until we get back home again.

“Our place is just off the Old Glen Innes Road and at the moment, we have the fire on three sides of us. The size of this fire (looking at the Fires Near Me app) at the moment is 148,000 hectares.

“Everyone’s doing their best. I’ve had people come in to the evac (evacuation) centre and load up their cars with drinks and snacks for the firies and take them out to them.

“Everyone’s helping everyone and it’s really wonderful.

“There’s a fantastic community spirit.

“We’ve even had people coming in from out of Grafton to the evac centre at Hawthorne Park saying, ‘can I do your washing’ or ‘here are some biscuits that I’ve baked’.

“It’s really nice that the town people realise that there are needs there.

“We have a lot of stress and emotions happening, because we’re in this waiting game; while others have been totally wiped out.

“You’re just grateful to have your life and your animals. A lot of people have lost everything. It’s so sad.

Diana saw Saturday’s scheduled DSA surfing day at Yamba as a reprieve from the bush fire woes.

“With all the fires around the north coast we didn’t want to let the surfers down today and in a way it’s been great because I have had a day when I haven’t had to breathe in the smoke and it’s been good to turn a negative into a positive,” she said.

Diana Willis gives John Mansfield a hand with the BBQ during Saturday’s Disabled Surfers Association event at Turners Beach, Yamba. Image: Lynne Mowbray