She stared down a wall of fire: 'I was just happy to get out alive'

A year on from the Yankees Gap fire, Numbugga's regrowth continues

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One year on from the tragic bushfire one woman shares her life-changing experience.

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As she sits at her dry Numbugga property one year on from the devastating bushfire, Janet Reynolds is philosophical about her experience and hoping for some much-needed rain.

On August 15 last year the 74-year-old was confronted by a wall of flames, her body filling with adrenaline she tossed aside a large tree branch from across the only road out of her property, and didn't look back.

"I was just happy to get out alive," Ms Reynolds said.

"It's a calm day today, but you never know when the strong winds will come again."

Thursday, August 15, 2019 was a year since the fire, which took control of almost 20,000 hectares of forest and threatened Bemboka, Numbugga, and Brogo on the NSW South Coast, began.

It was a lesson in impermanence. Absolutely everything I had was destroyed. - Numbugga resident Janet Reynolds

The blaze burned for 44 days before firefighters were able to bring it under control, leaving four homes, including Ms Reynolds' completely destroyed.

"I'm very philosophical," she said.

"I think my behaviour has changed a lot since the fire. It was a lesson in impermanence. Absolutely everything I had was destroyed."

She said while she's positive about the future, Thursday's anniversary brought a sense of sadness.

August 15 will mark one year since the bushfire began. Picture: Rachel Helmreich

August 15 will mark one year since the bushfire began. Picture: Rachel Helmreich

"People who didn't lose their homes still lost a lot," the former Cobargo Public School teacher said.

While the climate has been dry, Ms Reynolds said the devastated bushland is regrowing, and she is more focused on rejuvenating her food garden and planting for the future than rebuilding her new home.

"I'm astounded at how everything wants to live," she said.

"The amount of growth coming from the ground is wonderful. In 100 years time this place will be reforested, and in 20 to 30 years whoever is living here will have food trees."

She's been busy clearing away rubbish and dead trees from her 40-heactre property, and in the 12 months since the fire has become very active in lobbying for government action in tackling climate change.

She became a member of the Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action group, visited Parliament House in Canberra, and at this year's QBE Insurance annual general meeting she questioned the company's chairman Marty Becker on the company's energy policies.

Numbugga's Janet Reynolds holds photographs from last year's fire that destroyed her home. Picture: Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action

Numbugga's Janet Reynolds holds photographs from last year's fire that destroyed her home. Picture: Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action

"If the fire hadn't happened I'd be gardening and enjoying my retirement," Ms Reynolds said with a laugh.

Since the fire she has bought herself a mobile phone and connected to the internet.

"That is a massive change for me. Now there's so much happening online I'm staying connected," she said. "It's been a huge life-changer in that way."

She said many lessons have been learned from both the March 2018 bushfire around Tathra and the Yankees Gap fire, which is believed to have been started on a nearby property.

The fire took 44 days to be contained by firefighters. Picture: Rachel Helmreich

The fire took 44 days to be contained by firefighters. Picture: Rachel Helmreich

"I think it's quite a complex problem, particularly for people on properties with dry wood,' she said.

"For example if we could cheaply hire a chipper then I wouldn't need to burn. They are expensive.

"I think for also farmers who burn dead trees, if they had access to one then it would be a viable business.

"Anything we do to try and conserve rather than create more carbon in the atmosphere is a good idea."

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, recent unprecedented fires in the Arctic emitted as much carbon dioxide in one month as the nation of Sweden does in an entire year.

"July has rewritten climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at local, national and global level," the organisation's secretary-general Petteri Taalas said.

Ms Reynolds said she has participated in many of the relief programs offered to Tathra residents, and said better bushfire response mechanisms are needed.

Janet Reynolds lost everything in the blaze. Picture: Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action

Janet Reynolds lost everything in the blaze. Picture: Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action

"Tathra residents were so traumatised," she said.

"My sense was the main trauma came from the confusion at the time of the fire. Not knowing how to get out and then not being able to get back in. It added to the anxiety and stress.

While she said the community pulled together

"Council's fencing grant for damaged properties at Numbugga wasn't retrospective. Our farmers are an important part of the community, and there was no help.

"There was a big rush to help Tathra, so I do think we need to learn a lesson from that and help everybody in difficulty.

"We are all together in this. Everybody is together in this."

Tathra is also where she will be spending THE anniversary. The Science in the Pub Science Week event at the Tathra Hotel will be hosted by Clean Energy For Eternity founder Matthew Nott.

"I thought it was a perfect opportunity for my own private way of acknowledging it. It's perfect timing,' she said.

This article first appeared in the Bega District News

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