LOOKING BACK: ‘Even the dust in the air was exploding’

TRAPPED in her car as a fireball rolled over the bonnet, Eungella resident Marilynne Wright heard the banging on her passenger seat window.

Looking across, Mrs Wright said she saw a rural firefighter yelling one thing - "Get out!".

It was around midday on Tuesday, November 27, and a fire on Dalrymple Road had jumped containment lines and was roaring towards the Wrights' home.

Eungella resident Jolene Robinson with Skye Robinson, 7, and Ryder Robinson, 4.
Eungella resident Jolene Robinson with Skye Robinson, 7, and Ryder Robinson, 4.

With only minutes to spare before the fire arrived, Mrs Wright said she ran through the house to see what she could save.

"My husband said it's all clutter, but to me it's all memories," she said.

"It was one of those moments - I realised there was nothing I could take. We grabbed some food and shoved it in the car.

"The fire was all around - crawling though the grass.

"It was so hot, things were spontaneously combusting (around me).

"Even the dust in the air was exploding."

Ian Wright, her husband, went first down their driveway, which was already bordered by flames. When she tried to follow a fireball exploded over the bonnet of her car.

"I disappeared under a ball of fire," Mrs Wright said.

Rural firefighters helped her escape the flames and retreat to safety.

As he watched his wife disappear under the ball of flames her husband was alone, still holding a tray of muffins, she said.

Mrs Wright watched as Mick Zarb drove his dozer in circles around their house trying to create a firebreak - even as balls of fire and smoke flared over his cabin.

"Ours was the first house to be saved," she said.

With nothing else to give - and not knowing if they had a home to return to - the Wrights began volunteering at Eungella Memorial Hall on North Street.

 

COOKING UP A STORM: Joan Lennox, left, and Maz Wright worked for up to 16 hours straight – along with a host of other volunteers – to feed local firefighters.
COOKING UP A STORM: Joan Lennox, left, and Maz Wright worked for up to 16 hours straight – along with a host of other volunteers – to feed local firefighters.

Mrs Wright said she joined the kitchen while Mr Wright became "general dogsbody", helping out wherever he could.

Like an army, the firefighters marched on their stomachs, and commanding the Eungella kitchen was Jolene Robinson.

At the peak of the fires, Ms Robinson said, half a dozen volunteers cooked 1200 meals in a single day.

For more than a week, she worked 20-hour days, with just two hours sleep a night.

"We stepped into roles that we never imagined before," Ms Robinson said.

"You don't have fatigue management."

For the first week, Ms Robinson said, the kitchen ran off whatever had been left in people's freezers; but when the range road reopened they were inundated by food donations from the community.

"One night we had 120 pizzas delivered at 3am," she said, laughing at the memory.

"What the hell am I going to do with 120 pizzas at 3am?"

 

Eungella resident Jolene Robinson with Skye Robinson, 7, and Ryder Robinson, 4.
Eungella resident Jolene Robinson with Skye Robinson, 7, and Ryder Robinson, 4.

 

A year on, it is these memories of camaraderie and charity that remain with Ms Wright.

"It takes Aussies a cyclone or a fire or a disaster of some sort and all of the good people come out of the woodwork," she said.

With fires burning along the east coast this year, Ms Wright said she had a new understanding of the pain and terror in those communities.

"I feel for those people going through it now."



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