Fire was ‘like standing behind a jet engine’


The town, southwest of Sydney in the Southern Highlands region, was hit by the mammoth Green Wattle Creek blaze across three days and the firestorm destroyed dozens of homes.

A house and car destroyed in Saturday’s catastrophic bushfires at Balmoral. Picture: Mick TsikasSource:AAP

Speaking to reporters in nearby Picton yesterday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the devastation at Balmoral was “shocking”.

“We’ve got the devastating news there’s not much left in the town of Balmoral,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Very sad to hear that. Many residents have had that news in the last little while. Communities like Buxton and others have also been very hard hit.”

But the town of Balmoral is already fighting back, spray painting a message for the premier among the devastation.

A message for Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Picture: Mick Tsikas

A message for Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Picture: Mick TsikasSource:AAP

Much of the town was affected by the bushfire, with pictures from inside Balmoral showing the sheer devastation of the blaze.

RFS volunteer Russell Schoels lost his property at Balmoral helping his neighbours. Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian.

RFS volunteer Russell Schoels lost his property at Balmoral helping his neighbours. Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian.Source:News Corp Australia

Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian.

Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian.Source:News Corp Australia

A destroyed home on Victoria Street in Balmoral. Picture Rohan Kelly

A destroyed home on Victoria Street in Balmoral. Picture Rohan KellySource:News Corp Australia

A car completely destroyed by the fires. Picture: Mike Tsikas

A car completely destroyed by the fires. Picture: Mike TsikasSource:AAP

‘IT WAS LIKE STANDING BEHIND A 747 JET ENGINE’

It’s the sentence Justin never thought he would have to say.

“Everybody out, get in the car. The house is gone.”

It was just after 4pm on Saturday afternoon, and the Balmoral local — along with wife Helena and 16-year-old son Gabriel — was fighting part of the Green Wattle Creek bushfire ripping through the tight-knit village in NSW’s Southern Highlands.

The trio had prepared well. Their house was purpose built for bushfire defence and had already survived the 2013 fires.

The cars were running, with the family’s two cats Mushu and Persephone inside.

“We were confident we could save it,” Justin told AAP.

The flames came down the gully in front their property, the same as they did in 2013.

They roared so loudly it was “like standing behind a 747 jet engine,” Justin said.

The fires took out their generator, leaving them with no water, and burst through the kitchen and dining room before finally penetrating the house through the laundry.

“It was almost like a thinking fire, it had a mind of its own,” Helena said.

They lost everything, making it out of their home of 20 years with only the clothes on their back.

Gabriel hugs his mum Helena. Picture Rohan Kelly

Gabriel hugs his mum Helena. Picture Rohan KellySource:News Corp Australia

Helena and Justin Cam survey the damage. Picture: Rohan Kelly

Helena and Justin Cam survey the damage. Picture: Rohan KellySource:News Corp Australia

Gabriel, who is about to start Year 11, said fighting to save his house alongside his parents was terrifying.

“Probably if anyone asked me what the scariest thing I could have gone through is, it is easily a bushfire,” Gabriel told AAP.

“I’ve got 16 years worth of memories stored up in there, my whole life I’ve lived in there, and just all of it gone, just knowing that everything is burning down around you as you are fighting, it’s very, very scary.”

The hardest part for Justin, who works in forests, and Helena, who works in disaster response, is having to rely on the kindness of others.

“In this case there’s so much devastation, we really don’t know what to do,” Helena said.

The family have spent the last two nights sleeping at the house of the Balmoral RFS chief, and this morning were given food and cups of tea at the Balmoral RFS station.

“People need to understand this is a very, very special community,” Helena said.

While the couple originally thought they would spent Christmas with friends, Helena said she now might want to spend the day just as a family.

“That will be Christmas and it will be extra special,” she said.

“I had a bit of a meltdown today. You come out of it and you’re scared and you say that, ‘yeah we will rebuild, we’ll fight’ and you wake up and everything is gone,” Helena said.

To grab a small piece of normality, Helena asked Gabriel to sing for her — some Christmas carols, and even a rendition of Midnight Oil’s Beds Are Burning.

“We’re all together, and that’s the main thing,” Gabriel said.

The family’s burnt out house Picture: Rohan Kelly

The family’s burnt out house Picture: Rohan KellySource:News Corp Australia

The family tried to save their home. Picture: Rohan Kelly

The family tried to save their home. Picture: Rohan KellySource:News Corp Australia



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