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New South Wales bushfires October 2013

"We are coming back."

Christie Daschke and her husband Jake lost everything when fire destroyed their home in the Blue Mountains.

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Christie walks through the burnt out ruins of her house, destroyed by the bushfires in the Blue Mountains. "This was my grandmother's," she says, picking up a blackened and broken piece of pottery. "Maybe we could save it."

The 27-year-old teacher had been at work when the fires struck their street in Winmalee. She tells of how her husband, Jake, hearing the fires were approaching, had rushed home to get their dog Mia, only to find the street already alight and the front of their house in flames. With the help of a neighbour, he found Mia in the laundry out the back, "waiting for someone to come and get her".

She explains the relief of seeing Jake come up the road, safe, while the fires tore through their neighbourhood below, eventually destroying some 40 homes.

"We just huddled at the top of the road, devastated, not knowing what to do or where to go next," she says. Eventually they decided to go to her parents' place. "I don't know after that. It is just a blur."

After the fires had passed, the couple returned to their street, uncertain what to do next. There they found Red Cross volunteers directing people to where they could go for support.

"Once we stepped through the door of the [Springwood] evacuation centre, it was like they knew everything about us and what we needed."

Christie looks through what is left of her home in Winmalee. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera.

"We spoke to Red Cross people about the relief we could get immediately. We were given material on how to deal with a tragedy like this, and if we needed support, where to get it from. I just didn't expect that reaction from everybody … the help, the kindness."

She says it's the support from organisations like Red Cross and the broader Blue Mountains community that has sustained them over recent days.

"At first we weren't sure what we were going to do. But we've had a few days to think about it and there's no doubt we are coming back. We are going to rebuild our lives here, a new home, and maybe even a family."


Care when it counts

Vince and Margaret Sibbald lost their home in the Blue Mountains bushfires. The couple had lived in the Winmalee house for 40 years.

The home where Vince and Margaret Sibbald brought up six children and watched 14 grandchildren take their first steps was destroyed in minutes when bushfires swept through the Blue Mountains.

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The couple, now staying with one of their sons, tells of how they went outside to see smoke in the distance, then, less than 45 minutes later, the house was gone.

"The winds were incredible," say Vince. "Suddenly the fire was at the back fence and we were getting out of there."

They talk of grabbing medication and insurance papers as they rushed out the door, and giving the keys of their spare car to a neighbour to help them evacuate because 'that's what you do'.

The first night they stayed with their son further down the mountain before going to the evacuation centre in Springwood to register with Red Cross.

"We were shown so much care by the people of Red Cross," says Margaret. "When you feel so devastated, to be cared for like that means so much. Sometimes you just need a hug and someone to talk to.

"All the volunteers in the centre really connected with us; this sense of support, sense of community was so important," she says.

Earlier this week they returned to their street, where five of the 20 houses now lay ruined and still smouldering. Neighbours had organised a meal for those who had lost their homes.


Community strength

Jocelyn's home in the Blue Mountains is now only recognisable by the number on the post box - the burnt out ruins unidentifiable from some 50 other houses along the street, destroyed by the recent bushfires.

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The devastation is random. In some sections, three or four houses in a row have been destroyed. In other places, every second home has been hit, the collapsed shells standing next to brick veneer homes that stand untouched, their gardens and lawns fully intact.

The fires arrived quickly, explains Jocelyn. One moment she was in the back yard, concerned about the smoke in the distance; then there were a few patches of fire on the grass in the back yard; suddenly it was coming up on either side of her house.

Jocelyn, who has lived in the Blue Mountains for more than 40 years, lost everything when her family home was destroyed by bushfires.

"I new we had to get out of there. I raced in the back door, grabbed Mum and our handbags, and went straight out the front door, leaving everything behind."

"Every day you think of the things you've lost. Some of them you just think, 'oh well', others bring you to tears. There are things you just can't replace." Her father's war medals, an antique doll collection, and three generations of family photos are sadly missed.

After returning home, and seeing the "war zone"' her street had become, Jocelyn's thoughts have turned to the future. "Do I start again? Do I just clear it up, sell the land if you can and disappear? We intend building again. We've been there 42 years. This is our community."

It is this community that has helped us get through the emotional ups and downs of recent days, says Jocelyn, who is also a long-serving member of the local Red Cross branch. "I think I've met nearly everybody in the street this week. No matter where you go, people you've never met before ask how you are … I think it makes us stronger."


Finding shelter for the fires

Alison Webb and her family at Springwood Evacuation Centre with a volunteer "The knowledge that there was someone to take care of us was such a relief".

Alison Webb and her two daughters were at home in Falconbridge, a village in the Blue Mountains region when fires started. The wind was blowing embers onto the house. Standing at the Springwood Evacuation Centre a short time later, she was still in shock.

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"I never thought we'd get to this point. I thought we'd be ok," she says.

Not having an emergency plan, Alison panicked. Her young daughters, Jamie and Peri saw her distress.

"The kids were quite upset, frightened, especially my youngest one."

With her neighbour's help, Alison grabbed her beloved pets and her daughter's special blanket and ran out to evacuate. Alison was frantic about what to take with her. Some things special to her like her wedding dress were left behind. "A plan would have been helpful" she says.

She drove through smoke and around road closures to the Springwood Evacuation Centre, flustered, stressed and worried. As she was greeted by Christine Sales, a trained Red Cross volunteer at the door, Alison says that suddenly a sense of peace washed over her. "Everyone was really calm around us. It was reassuring. Red Cross people greeting us knew what they were doing. They registered us and let us know that we're safe here. The knowledge that there was someone to take care of us was such a relief."

While at the centre, Alison received news that she could return to her home, but she decided to stay at the centre for a while longer: "We're safe here for now and the children feel calmer."

As a sonographer (someone who takes ultrasonic imaging) at a local hospital, Alison is used to being the one helping people, but in this case, she says the support was a relief.

"You never expect to be the one who needs help. But eventually everyone does. It's nice to know that Red Cross volunteers are there for you when that happens."

More than 100 Red Cross volunteers just like Caroline are involved in the response, supporting people in evacuation centres in Springwood and Blackheath. More trained volunteers are on stand by, to provide support in the coming days as needed.Friends and family are key


Red Cross is there

Red Cross volunteers and staff are there with the families and communities in the Blue Mountains area as they recover.

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Red Cross volunteers and staff continue to provide support at the Springwood Recovery Centre and at community recovery events in the Blue Mountains area in NSW.

Recovering from an emergency is a complex process that may take months, even years. Red Cross is there with families and communities as people deal with the emotional impact of the disaster.

We are assisting the affected communities, including the 193 families that lost their homes, as they look for advice on the next steps they should take since the devastating fires in October 2013.

People who have lost their homes or had property damaged are experiencing stress, exhaustion and are trying to come to terms with an awful reality.

Our staff and volunteers have visited 5,975 homes to check that the residents are ok in the Blue Mountains area, including Mt Wilson, Berambling and Bilpin. The residents were provided with practical information and resources to help them recover.

Since the first visit, Red Cross has worked closely with the Blue Mountains City Council and local service providers to revisit many of the homes to check on people's wellbeing. This includes more than 100 households that requested our volunteers to come back.

Recovery in the long-term

In the upcoming months, Red Cross will work closely with local and state government, community and emergency organisations to identify the support the community needs to recover in the long-term.

This may include revisiting homes to check that people are ok during anniversaries of the fires, having Red Cross volunteers provide personal support and recovery information at local community events, and ensuring that children have the support they need by providing school recovery lesson plans to local teachers.

Long after the emergency is over, Red Cross helps individuals and communities as they rebuild their lives.

Your support

Australian Red Cross sought donations to support its work with communities affected by the recent NSW bushfires and also to support its work in preparedness, response and recovery for other disasters around Australia.

The Australian public and corporate supporters have shown tremendous generosity in donations to our Disaster Relief and Recovery work. The funds will enable Red Cross to:

  • Continue the crucial immediate work of supporting communities affected by the recent NSW bushfires as Red Cross has done since the fires commenced.
  • Finalise and implement a long-term recovery program to support affected communities in NSW over the coming weeks and months
  • Provide direct assistance to individuals and families who lost so much in the bushfires through a partnership with the Blue Mountains City Council and their Mayoral Bushfire Relief Fund. Red Cross will contribute monies to be distributed through the Mayoral Bushfire Relief Fund directly to people impacted in that area.
  • Support our work with communities to better prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters across the country.


Returning home after a bushfire

NSW bushfire

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Calm before the storm
People come to the Springwood evacuation centre in waves. Read more »

Are my friends ok?
Danny Coucher reflects on what is happening in his community. Read more »

Friends and family are key
Community and family are central to recovering from a disaster. Read more »

Helping local people in the face of tragedy
Local volunteer Carolyn Luscombe is there to help fellow locals in the Blue Mountains. Read more »

Finding shelter from the fires
Alison Webb and her two daughters were at home when fires started. Read more »