The raging inferno came within a few metres of wiping out Old Bar and Wallabi Point on Saturday, communities east of Taree.
It rolled through fields and jumped the Pacific Highway as it raced toward the two isolated suburbs, with reports the trees lining the outer roads were engulfed in a 70ft high “wall of fire”.
It was here, chillingly close to the communities’ boundaries, Aircrane water-bombing helicopters stopped the blaze in its tracks.
“They came along and dropped water straight on our backyard here,” said Brodie Trotter, whose home is one of 10 properties in a small close on the southern end of Old Bar.
The group of houses is wedged between the beach and a field, which is now scarred black.
The 21-year-old apprentice boilermaker said the precision of the chopper pilots was astounding.
“Through all the smoke, can barely see anything and then all of a sudden the chopper’s above here and it’s right on top of it (the fire),” he said.
“I don’t know how they do it, it’s amazing.
“They saved the homes because without them our little block here would have been up in flames.”
The NSW Rural Fire Service’s Fires Near Me app outlines areas affected by the fire. It shows how the flames occupied huge regions on the Mid Coast but were unable to force their way into the two suburbs.
RELATED: Worst yet to come with ‘catastrophic’ conditions forecast
Brodie was stuck on the other side of Taree in Wingham at the time of the blaze after being cut off by road closures.
He was forced to wait for updates but his dad, Darrin Trotter, witnessed the firefighting heroics.
Old Bar borders the subtropical region on the eastern seaboard, but the intrusive and persistent fire pressing right up to the sand details its current abnormally dry conditions.
“You wouldn’t expect the fire to be right up to the water, but Dad had to go to the beach,” Brodie said.
His father was right down at the shoreline and said “it was like being in an oven”.
Club Taree chief executive Morgan Stewart evacuated his home at Wallabi Point late last week and has resorted to sleeping in his office.
Mr Stewart and his wife anxiously watched the live broadcast on the news which showed the trees lining his Wallabi Point property engulfed in flames 70 feet high.
“We were sitting here yesterday morning and there was a shot of our street on the television.
“That tree line has 60 foot trees and it was just a wall of fire, so we immediately thought that was the house gone.”
Wallabi Point just now
Posted by Old Bar – The Community on Friday, 8 November 2019
But reports had filtered through from the coastal suburb indicating the house may still be standing after vision emerged on a local Facebook group of the helicopter’s efforts.
“That’s the only reason we’ve got a suburb, we were expecting it to be gone,” he told news.com.au.
The water-bombing helicopters came “from the beach and straight up the main street in Wallabi Point”.
Mr Stewart’s club has been activated as an evacuation centre for those left stranded. Up to 900 people sought refuge on Friday night.
He won’t know for sure if he still has a home until the roads reopen and the couple can return.
The club chief executive said the heart-sinking terror of seeing his home facing a fierce “wall of fire” while also witnessing the genuine compassion and generosity of the community had been a wild rollercoaster of emotions.
“It’s been tough,” Mr Stewart said.
“But even if we’ve lost our house, it’s just a house. That sounds glib or a throwaway line, but it’s only a house, it’s a home when we’re in it,” he said.
“If the house went that would be really devastating, but you can rebuild a house.”
The Mid North Coast is bracing for another day of extreme conditions tomorrow.
As the sun sets behind an orange sky distorted by smoke from nearby bushfires Taree residents, and those from surrounding communities, await a sleepless night ahead of extreme conditions on Tuesday.
It’s feared hot and windy forecasts will fuel nearby fires that continue to burn.