Evacuees tell of agonising drive north as Stanthorpe burned
THE view of Stanthorpe burning in the rear vision mirror left a haunting impression on Chantelle Peterson as she drove away into the night, towards the Warwick evacuation centre.
"Everything ahead of me was pitch black, but behind me there were flames everywhere," Miss Peterson said.
"All you could do was drive away and hope for the best."
Miss Peterson, her friend Keira Gray and their pets had decided to leave when they saw flames speeding across the New England Highway during an afternoon drive.
"They were so high, way higher than any building," Ms Peterson said.
"You could see when it got hold of a tree because flames would start skyrocketing into the sky.
"There was banging and popping and it sounded like something exploding."
The heat was inescapable.
"No matter where we were in town it was getting really, really hot," Ms Peterson said.
The pair said they were grateful for the temporary accommodation at the YMCA Leslie Park but feared for their homes, which had been mere streets away from the worst of the damage.
Finnish backpackers Sini Kestila and Elmeri Nick agreed the experience had been "kind of surreal."
The pair had watched the bright glow over the horizon all evening before police finally attended their hostel at The Summit at 11.30.
They were advised to prepare to evacuate.
"We were panicking a little and a bit anxious because you're just waiting the whole evening, not knowing what is going to happen," Ms Kestila said.
"You don't want to go to bed because even though the fire wasn't at our doorstep, we knew it could spread fast."
Applethorpe residents Delvene Kratzmann and Declan Healy say they're glad they chose to leave when they did.
The mother and son had been staying with Ms Kratzmann's parents when the evacuation order came through.
"My dad didn't want to go so I was glad I was there to convince him," Ms Kraztmann said.
Her mother, too, was hesitant.
"She was concerned because one of the cows has become her close friend, because she'd raised her from a calf," she said.
But if they had not have left in that moment, they would have become trapped, according to Mr Healy.
"If we hadn't left then, we would've been stuck there," Mr Harvey said.
Neighbours have since reported the beloved cow is in good health.
Residents from north of Applethorpe have been advised to remain at the centre as winds pick up throughout the day.