Family’s heartbreaking return home
Families have begun returning to their burned out homes on the New South Wales mid-north coast, finding nothing but devastation after fires tore through the region over the weekend.
Emily Smith wept in agony as she returned to her family home at Bobin, northeast of Taree.
"It's alright Mum," her youngest daughter said, wrapping her arms around her as the family pulled up to their house, now just a pile of twisted corrugated iron and rubble.
Ms Smith told 9 News her partner Nathan and 14-year-old son Jake came home on Friday to find the house on fire and had no idea whether she had managed to escape.
The two tried desperately to fight the blaze themselves but had "no chance", Ms Smith said.
"The last thing I heard was that she was at home … she might have died," Jake said.
More than a dozen homes were destroyed in the area, including the local school, according to the Nine report.
Nathan said it was a "freak of nature" the way the blaze had "zigzagged" through the neighbourhood.
Newly homeless residents on the Mid-North Coast are feeling the true cost of this crisis, and today #9News were with one family, as they returned to their burned out property for the first time, not knowing what to expect. @Zara_James9 pic.twitter.com/xY73S1zzaH— Nine News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) November 11, 2019
As Ms Smith's two daughters sifted through the ashes, one pulled out a set of silver chimes. But the greatest surprise was finding their black cat, which had miraculously survived the blaze.
Meanwhile, Taree couple Angelo and Chantal Fornasier weren't so lucky.
As they returned to their flattened home at Rainbow Flat on Sunday, their first thoughts were not for their lost belongings but for their pets.
"The cocky was in there," Mr Fornasier told ABC News.
"I couldn't save the bird. I got the cage there to put the bird in. I couldn't make it. I couldn't make it to get the bird."
"And the cat. I just hope she's got away," Ms Fornasier said, choking up as she took in the sight.
The couple said they had just minutes to get in the car and leave as a fire tore towards their home on Friday.
"It just came roaring, like a storm coming through. It was a matter of going or dying," Ms Fornasier said.
The have vowed to rebuild their home and keep alive the memories they've made over the last 20 years, but admit it will never feel the same.
"It's a disaster, it's a nightmare. I cry every day at what happened. I don't want to think about it. I don't sleep anymore," Mr Fornasier said.
On Monday night, more than 60 fires were still burning across New South Wales, with another 50 in Queensland.
Thank you to the @NSWRFS team from Liston for working on saving our farmhouse and land over the last 6 days. This photo from the verandah. Working with the team over the last few days I got to see how dedicated and committed they are. #bushfires pic.twitter.com/fJ8tAES5T4— Tim Horan (@TimHoran12) November 11, 2019
A state of emergency has been declared in both states and firefighters are now bracing for "catastrophic" weather conditions, including high temperatures, strong winds and dry air, on Tuesday.
There are also fears for residents in parts of Western Australia, with an extreme fire danger also forecast for the South Interior.
Three people have died and hundreds of homes are feared lost in the fires.