Elizabeth and Bryan Gough bought their dream home in Pappinbarra three years ago, but no-one told them they needed a plan in case of bushfires.
At the start of Get Ready weekend, the couple are urging everyone to have a bushfire survival plan.
Sunday February 12 2017 was an extremely hot day in the valley, as temperatures soared to a searing 46 celsius. They stayed inside with the air conditioner going, and all the doors and windows closed.
“That afternoon, we heard three fire engines race past, sirens going, and I went on Fires Near Me on the computer, and all of a sudden, it came up as being near our next-door neighbours, and then the computer shut down,” she said.
It’s no good having a house if I’m not alive to enjoy it.
Elizabeth, who is severely asthmatic, had just got out of hospital early that morning. She smelt smoke and she and her husband decided to get out.
As they packed the car, the flames appeared through a neighbouring paddock. There were two fire engines sitting outside their home.
“There was a huge wall of flame coming up the side of the trees. I went back to get our paperwork and a firie said to me: ‘Get out now, or you’ll never get out alive.’
“So we got in the car, and as we drove out the gate, the flames were coming over the top of the trees and hitting the roof of our house.
“It was terrifying. We didn’t even have time to ring my sister in Laurieton and tell her we were coming,” said Elizabeth, who prayed fervently that her home would be saved.
“There was no phone signal until Wauchope, where I rang my sister and told her we’d got out but we didn’t know if we had a house to go back to. Then I burst into tears,” she said.
Elizabeth had run out in her bare feet and had to stop and buy shoes. The next day, they drove back to their house to get some tablets they’d forgotten.
“I looked around and it was absolutely devastating. It was black – still smoking in lots of places, still some flames. Our house was intact, and I was so, so, so lucky. I just bawled my eyes out,” said Elizabeth.
“There was a huge burnt patch in front of the house. My vegetable garden and some trees were ruined. Out the back, there was no grass – nothing – it was just black, black, black.”
The fire had melted part of the wheelie bin, burnt plants and wiped out 14 fruit trees in an orchard.
Since then, the Goughs have drawn up a bushfire plan, and they have very fine metal mesh around the house to stop embers getting in. Elizabeth has also ordered a sprinkler system to go all around their home.
They have removed vegetation and trees near their house, and have a fire-proof, water-proof safe with all their documentation in it. They have all their prescriptions in the pharmacy in town in case they have to leave in a hurry again.
After the fire, the couple went to all the RFS and Rebuild Pappinbarra meetings which they found very useful.
“The Rural Fire Service came back and rescued our house twice on February 12. We are so grateful and we feel very lucky. If there’s going to be another fire, we are much more prepared,” she said.
“It’s no good having a house if I’m not alive to enjoy it.”
And Elizabeth would advise everyone to get a bushfire survival plan.