‘One minute it was daylight, the next it was Armageddon’
SEVEN Yeppoon paddlers helped defend the heritage-listed guesthouse they were staying in as fire ravaged Batemans Bay.
Richard Newton, Max Bennett, Mark Murray, Murray Osborne, Gary Wilkins, Bill Robertson and Phil Stubbs used hoses, buckets and towels to dampen down the 90-year-old building as houses around it burned on New Year's Eve.
The men were using Batemans Bay as their base as they competed in the George Bass Marathon.
They were taking on the 190km journey with the ashes of their good friend Kiernan Gettinby, who had trained for the event but died suddenly from a lung disease about five weeks ago.
They had done two legs of the marathon, from Batemans Bay to Tuross Head, before they got word on Monday night the event was cancelled due to the worsening bushfire situation.
Richard said they woke on Tuesday to the news that roads north and south were closed and they were effectively trapped in Bateman's Bay.
As the fire closed in, Richard and the other men were determined to save the guesthouse, which was owned by a friend's family.
"They were worried about it going up being a complete timber home so we got set up with hoses, buckets and towels," Richard said.
"We were waiting for the southerly to hit… and as soon as it did everything went pear-shaped.
"It was unbelievable. Everything went black, the sky went black.
"One minute it was daylight, the next it was like Armageddon."
The men continued dampening down the house, undaunted as flames swallowed everything in their path.
"There were houses 500m away that were burning, a few industrial buildings that were on fire," Richard said.
"The flames were still quite a distance away but the embers were coming close and that's what we were most worried about.
"We just rode it out and by the evening things had settled down and the wind dropped off."
The Yeppoon contingent left Batemans Bay this morning on the urging of authorities who were desperate to get people out of the area before another day of catastrophic fire danger on Saturday.
Richard said the roads were heavily congested but they had made it to Newcastle by noon today.
"Leaving Batemans Bay, we had to go past Lake Conjola where the whole town got burnt.
"Between Batemans Bay and Nowra it's just black.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's incredible the amount of destruction.
"We've recently had fires on the Capricorn Coast but this is on a massive scale.
"The lady who organised the race, her mother lost her home, her sister lost her home and she spent 24 hours fighting to save her home. When you know people, it really brings the tragedy home."