A year on from the catastrophic Pappinbarra bush fires, the small community in this beautiful valley are still recovering from the devastation.
This is our first in a series of special reports.
Three families lost homes in the blazes last February. Many more lost fencing and outbuildings. Hundreds of firefighters from across New South Wales united to take on one of the most challenging weather events seen in our region’s history.
Three people lost their homes – very difficult for them, but difficult as a community as well, because these people were our friends and now they were homeless.Lisa McLeod
Record-breaking temperatures and gale-force winds combined to create a firestorm which travelled incredibly quickly along the Pappinbarra Road towards Beechwood.
It’s been a difficult year for the people of this tightly-knit community. Lisa McLeod, who’s president of the Pappinbarra Progress Association, has been talking about what happened that fateful day, Sunday February 12 2017, and how people have been coping.
Lisa was out of the valley and she saw smoke as she and her friends drove home. They couldn’t get in contact with any neighbours to find what out was going on. They were stopped at Beechwood and spent the night in Timbertown.
“There was ash floating in the street in Wauchope, and it was really difficult not knowing what was happening,” said Lisa, who was very relieved the next day to find that her home was intact.
Lisa had already joined the Rural Fire Service – the following weekend was to be her final training session.
“These people were putting their lives on the line for me, and I needed to join, to look after my property and those of other people in the valley.
“The first day I drove back into the valley with my girlfriends, we couldn’t speak, because we couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”
She opened up the Hollisdale hall, a focal point for the community, and immediately people began to arrive. There was still no power, phone contact or internet.
“It was quite intense. We started to hear the stories. Three people lost their homes – very difficult for them, but difficult as a community as well, because these people were our friends and now they were homeless.
“Most of them doing okay now. There have been challenges, for sure. No-one has re-built. There have been issues for each family.
“Some have started. Some are in the process. Some may never build. But the community’s been wonderful, and I must say Rotary and Lions and many other people have been helping these families, along with the Pappinbarra community.”
The fire has taught everyone in the valley to be even more aware of bush fires, how important it is to have a plan and make your property safe.