RESIDENTS on Explorers Way, Lake Cathie are thanking their lucky stars after fire crews were able to stop a wall of fire from destroying their homes.
On returning to the street today (October 30) the charred remains of trees opposite their front doors show just how different the story could have been.
Flames came within 10 metres of the houses which front bushland surrounding the lake, said resident Ranji Kennedy.
"It was quite shocking at one point but I was reassured that there were three crews of firefighters out the front of our houses keeping us safe," Mr Kennedy said.
"I sent my wife and baby to Bonny Hills when the street was getting evacuated but I decided to stay and defend our home and our neighbours.
"For a good few hours from 8.30pm, I was helping to put out spot fires on our front lawn and was trying to make sure the flying embers didn't reach anything which could go up in flames."
Mr Kennedy said despite the danger he felt he could do more help if he stayed.
"I was ready to leave if I needed to and I was prepared to jump the back fence if it got to that point but I am glad I could stay and help," he said.
"There were a few families who came down to watch the action, which was a bit ridiculous as it was dangerous, and if the fire had turned it could have been a really bad situation.
"Thankfully firefighters did an excellent job and now it is just a watch and wait situation."
Frances Wilson and her family have made Explorers Way their home after moving from Sydney more than a decade ago and said evacuating was the best option for them.
"We had been watching the Fires Near Me app all (Monday) night and then into Tuesday but when we got the message to evacuate there was no hesitation we packed the car and left for Bonny Hills," Mrs Wilson said.
"When we got to Bonny Hills it was pretty good. We felt safe there for most of the day. It was only later in the afternoon that it got bad again.
"We went for a walk and looking back over Lake Cathie it looked like the fire was almost exploding into the bushes and trees it was so bad."
Mrs Wilson and her family count themselves lucky the fire - for the most part - went around them.
"The emergency services were water bombing the residential houses from the sky to make sure the houses stayed as protected as they could be. They have been doing a great job."
At 7pm Tuesday, the Wilsons were allowed back to their houses, but less than half an hour later the "crackle of fire could be heard again".
By 8.30pm the family decided to leave again.
"It was just not worth the risk," she said.
"Everything was insured and we had the pets and all the important documents we needed. My husband had watered down everything outside and in the garage and we just hoped for the best.
"As we were leaving, the fire crackle was getting louder and louder and then all of a sudden it was a huge roar and we knew we were leaving.
"It was a pretty long night but we are so thankful it has turned out the way it has."
The Wilsons, like the residents in Explorers Way, have had no significant damage but they are on high alert if conditions change again.
"The pool is black but otherwise we have been pretty lucky.
"But it is still a watching and waiting game. We have unpacked and packed the car again just in case, but we hope the worst is behind us now."
Take no chances
For David and Robyn Hatherly the threat of the fire was enough for them to activate their bushfire survival plan and leave Explorers Way early.
With the caravan packed and the house doused in water, the couple decided it was not worth the risk.
"All day we were watching the smoke and were trying to stay on top of the latest information but when there was a knock at the door we knew it was time," Mrs Hatherly said.
"During the day we could see the black smoke but it was far enough into the bush that it wasn't a huge worry and we just kept doing things around the house.
"In the afternoon we had lunch and a cuppa about 3pm and thought the worst was over.
"When it got dark things changed a bit and we went outside when the door rang and it was just a red as far as you could see and that is when we left.
"My husband has a lung problem and health wise it was not worth the risk when the smoke got so bad.
"We had our clothes packed and we went to a friend's house in Port Macquarie."
Mr Hatherly praised the work of local fire crews who kept working all day and all night.
"They are really excellent," Mr Hatherly said.
"We went up to them throughout yesterday and they kept telling us what was happening.
"And then when it came to leaving they were great and made sure all the houses on the street were protected.
"We can't thank them enough for all their efforts and what they continue to do."
The morning after
Theresa Kirkwood likes in Lake Cathie but came down to Explorers Way overnight to see just how bad the conditions got.
"I live near Explorers Way and have friend who live on that road and when we were there all you could see was red," Ms Kirkwood said.
"At 9pm all the residents who had stayed had hoses out and were helping the firefighters to keep the flames back.
"This morning though it is pretty eerie seeing how close the fire actually got."
Ms Kirkwood said she has other friends who live around the fire zone who woke to red trees due to dropped fire retardant.
"You know you are close to the fire when the red retardant covers your roof and garden," she said.
"We are all just so thankful to the firefighters on the ground and in the air who have helped make sure everyone is safe."
The work continues
Firefighters from across the Hastings continue to fight the main fire as well as spot fires which are cropping up.
This morning (October 30) crews from Bonny Hills and Beechwood were at Explorers Way tending to a spot fire.
A firefighter said the ground and trees will be smouldering for a while yet and spot fires are going to be an issue.
He said when residents see a small spot fire they get nervous, but it is to be expected given what happened overnight.