Bushfire blasts family home, destroys 40 years of memories
THE ghastly roar of fire screaming towards his childhood home was unlike anything James Wright had ever heard.
The Tannymorel man, and his fire chief father before him, had defended the Paddy's Flat property many times over the years.
But this time was different.
As the blaze tore through the cleared land, embers flew more than 15km ahead of the front, causing spot fires to ignite within minutes on the other side of the Paddy's Flat home.
Then "it exploded."
"It was unbelievable, just a monstrous blow," Mr Wright said.
"I didn't ever want to see anything like that here."
Most of the fire trucks were caught on the other side of the fire and forced to retreat due to its ferocity.
"Experience people who knew the country and knew their limits just threw up their hands and said, 'Hey, we have to get out of here.'"
Roads were cut off, bridges were burned down, and for those who had yet to escape there was no longer any way out. Mr Wright's mother and sister watched, horrified, from a neighbouring property.
"It was just unbelievably hot and fast-moving," Mr Wright said.
"It sounded like a jet plane, I've never experienced anything like it."
The house didn't stand a chance: Forty years of family memories were incinerated within minutes.
"I couldn't get back there to save it, though I tried a few times," Mr Wright said.
"My old truck couldn't get through the paddock because of all the crown fires and trees burning up by the road."
By the time Mr Wright was able to return, the house, the shed and most of the cattle fencing was destroyed.
"It's hard to know that if you could have gotten back, you probably could've done something, but there's a lot of people in the same boat," he said.
The community is still counting their losses, according to his wife, Emma Wright.
"The fire brigade has no idea how many houses, cabins and sheds have been lost," she said.
"Lots of people still can't access their land so they don't know if their homes survived or not.
"The numbers are rising every day."
But from the pain and loss has come a renewed sense of strength and generosity within the community.
"There's a neighbour down the road who lost absolutely everything and he bought the neighbours a big B-double load of good hay for their cattle," Mrs Wright said.
"We've had other neighbours down the road, counting every single hay bale in their shed and donating them to others.
"People are taking from themselves when they don't have anything left to take."
The couple hope their family's story will draw attention to the struggle of those just over the border, some of whom feel their fight has been forgotten.
Mrs Wright has set up a GoFundMe page to help her mother-in-law rebuild her fences.
"It's not just the house, it's her job as well," she said.
"It will go a long way to helping her get up and running again.
"It's the least I could do to help - If you sit down and think about it too much you wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning."
If you would like to help, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/firestorm-emergency-funds or donate to The Shed of Hope by calling 0406 135 936.