Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph

Faces of a tragedy: Human toll of NSW bushfires

Twenty-one people have died across NSW since October as a result of the devastating bushfires that have burned through more than five million hectares and destroyed more than 2100 homes.

 

October 9, 2019

Bob Lindsay, 77, and Gwen Hyde, 68

Coongbar

Newlyweds Bob Lindsay and Gwen Hyde perished side-by-side trying to save their isolated property in Deadman Creek Rd at Coongbar, which backs on to Keybarbin State Forest in northern NSW.

 

Married couple Bob Lindsay and Gwen Hyde, who sadly perished at their Deadman Creek Rd property in the bushfires near Casino in northern NSW.
Married couple Bob Lindsay and Gwen Hyde, who sadly perished at their Deadman Creek Rd property in the bushfires near Casino in northern NSW.

The retired service station owner and the well-known local farmer married at the Casino courthouse just three years earlier after falling in love late in life.

Ms Hyde's former husband, Archie, had lost his battle with dementia.

Mr Lindsay was a bit of a local hero after he famously used a broom handle to scare off a machete-wielding mug at Casino's Liberty Service Station, which he used to own.

Friends said the couple, who had children from their earlier marriages, would not have stood a chance when the Long Gully Road fire roared through when the easterly winds picked up.

The fire had been burning since a lightning strike on September 5.

 

Vivian Chaplain, 69, died after a bushfire swept through Wytaliba near Glen Innes in Northern NSW on Friday November 8, 2019.
Vivian Chaplain, 69, died after a bushfire swept through Wytaliba near Glen Innes in Northern NSW on Friday November 8, 2019.

November 8, 2019

Vivian Chaplain, 69

Diehard

As the Kangawalla blaze tore through the tranquil Northern Tablelands community of Wytaliba, Vivian Chaplain called her daughter-in-law in a panic.

The 69-year-old, who had stayed behind to protect her home and animals, asked for her son and his father to help her fight the flames but they couldn't get through.

"She was in an absolute panic. She said, 'We're on fire. There's fire everywhere. I need the boys here now'," daughter-in-law Chrystal Harwood said.

"We called the Rural Fire Service but they couldn't get through either. We rang a friend who was in Wytaliba and he pushed through the fire to get to her."

The brave rescuer found Ms Chaplain unconscious near her shed, suffering burns to at least 40 per cent of her body. He put her in his ute and drove back through the flames where he met the RFS crew at the access bridge to the village.

The firefighters fought to save her life, performing CPR for several hours before she was flown to Concord Hospital where she died overnight.

She had moved to the area to live a peaceful, sustainable life on her own little piece of land and Ms Harwood paid tribute to her.

"She was amazingly strong and very stubborn," she said. "We all knew she would have stood there with a hose trying to fight it and trying to save the animals."

 

George Nole moved to the isolated village of Wytaliba to “be himself”.
George Nole moved to the isolated village of Wytaliba to “be himself”.

 

November 8, 2019

George Nole, 85

Diehard

George Nole was found dead in a burnt-out car at the Kangawalla fire zone.

The Greek-born Australian was an electronics genius who had worked on NASA's Apollo missions but moved to the isolated village of Wytaliba to "be himself", friends said.

The Wytaliba Mr Nole joined in the 1980s was a laid-back place popular with nudists.

He was a stalwart of the community, often riding his cycle around the village, and voted for the Sex Party.

"The 86-year-old had a sticker on his car which read 'Sexy Senior Citizen'," local Brett Miller said.

Mr Nole was known to attend parties in Lederhosen and was a "reclusive nudist".

"There was a bell at the front of his house that you would ring to tell him you were coming," Mr Miller said. "That would give him enough time to put some undies or something on.

"If you didn't ring that and just went to the door, he would just open it and you would get the full view."

Friends said Mr Nole had been diagnosed with leukaemia in 2014 and had been prepared to die.

 

The Johns River where bushfire victim Julie Fletcher was found dead after the Crowdy Bay bushfire burnt through the area. Picture: Nathan Edwards
The Johns River where bushfire victim Julie Fletcher was found dead after the Crowdy Bay bushfire burnt through the area. Picture: Nathan Edwards

November 8, 2019

Julie Fletcher, 63

Johns River

Julie Fletcher's body was found in her burnt-out home on November 10, two days after she died before she could escape the fast-moving fire bearing down on Wharf Rd, Johns River, between Port Macquarie and Taree.

Her family had once owned most of the property around Johns River where they ran dairy cattle, and neighbours said animal-lover Ms Fletcher loved her Angus cattle so much she could never sell them for slaughter.

"Her cows died old and happy," her friend and neighbour Diny Khan, 63, said.

"She was just the most incredibly kind and thoughtful lady - what a horrible way to go."

Ms Fletcher had sent her friend a message at 9.30pm on Friday November 8 saying she was packing her car and getting ready to go.

"The fire was so intense, it hit quickly and it was hard to tell where it was coming from.

"She obviously never made it out," Ms Khan said.

 

Barry Parsons, in his last Facebook post, wrote:
Barry Parsons, in his last Facebook post, wrote: "Seriously looks and sounds like apocalypse out there”. Picture: Facebook

November 8, 2019

Barry Parsons, 58

Willawarrin

Barry Parsons, 58, left a haunting Facebook post as the Carrai East fire bore down on the Willawarrin property, 34km northwest of Kempsey, where he lived alone in a shed.

"Seriously looks and sounds like apocalypse out there. F. ked up being on your own in these times," Mr Parsons wrote.

Earlier that afternoon, he posted about the "hot and windy day", noting there was "smoke everywhere" and wrote of the "Mandarin skies".

"They must be EVERYWHERE," Mr Parsons wrote.

"I wouldn't have a CLUE which way to turn if the SHTF (s*** hit the fan).

"I swear it's spooky as f***."

His body was found five days later in burnt-out bushland not far from his shed where locals, who described him as a "kind and caring person", said he would care for stray cats.

Australian Hemp Party president Michael Balderstone said Mr Parsons would occasionally drop in at the Nimbin hemp embassy.

"He was a lovely peaceful guy. He was just a lovely gentle guy," he said.

 

Doting father and grandfather Chris Savva who died on November 9 at South Arm.
Doting father and grandfather Chris Savva who died on November 9 at South Arm.

November 9, 2018

Chris Savva, 64

South Arm

Chris Savva's family has paid tribute to the grandfather who successfully defended his north coast home from the Kian Rd fire, only to find the wooden bridge - his only way out - destroyed by the flames.

The long-term resident of South Arm near Bowraville was found dead in his upturned SUV after it ran down an embankment when he had turned around to try and make it back home. He lived 18km outside town.

"He would have had a long night (defending his home). He was incredibly brave to have done that," one of his daughters Bianca Waters, 36, said.

Of Greek-Cypriot heritage, Mr Savva had three children, three stepchildren and nine grandchildren.

"He was a doting father and his grandchildren were the apple of his eye. He was a wonderful man," Mrs Waters said.

"He was incredibly kind and had a great sense of humour. He really was a hero."

 

RFS Firefighter Andrew O'Dwyer with his wife Melissa and their daughter Charlotte.
RFS Firefighter Andrew O'Dwyer with his wife Melissa and their daughter Charlotte.

 

December 19, 2019

Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 35

Buxton

The two young volunteer firefighters, best mates and fathers, Andrew O'Dwyer and Geoffrey Keaton, died in terrifying conditions battling the Green Wattle Creek fire near Buxton.

A burnt gum, the type sadly called widow makers, crashed onto the cab of their fire truck, killing them instantly and injuring the three crew in the back seat from the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade.

At their funerals, their young children Charlotte O'Dwyer, 18 months, and Harvey Keaton, 19 months, were told their dads had left only because they were heroes.

 

The toddlers were presented with their dads' Commissioner's Commendation for extraordinary service and bravery - the highest accolade that can be given to NSW firefighters.

Mr Keaton had been at the wheel of the truck, Mr O'Dwyer next to him in the passenger seat, with smoke so thick they could barely see 50m ahead. They were travelling in convoy when the tree fell, forcing the vehicle to veer off the road and roll over in a culvert drain.

They were remembered as devoted dads who loved nothing better than swapping photographs and tales of their toddlers as they were both farewelled with full Rural Fire Service honours.

Mr O'Dwyer's wife Melissa said: "The boys have always got each other's back."

Mr Keaton's fiancee Jess Hayes said Geoff was "a super proud dad who did anything to help his family and friends".

 

December 29, 2019

Male, 59.

Yarrowitch

A 59-year-old man died six weeks after he was winched to safety suffering severe burns from his rural property on Blomfields Rd at Yarrowitch, about 70km southeast of Walcha.

He was found on November 7 by a National Parks and Wildlife Services officer after he was seriously burnt taking shelter in a water tank, after staying to try and defend the property from the Stockyard Flat fire.

He was treated by NSW Ambulance paramedics before being flown by the Westpac rescue chopper to Port Macquarie Hospital and transferred to Royal North Shore Hospital for further treatment where he later died.

Samuel McPaul with his wife Megan McPaul. Picture: Facebook
Samuel McPaul with his wife Megan McPaul. Picture: Facebook

 

December 30, 2019

Samuel McPaul, 28

Jingellic

Father-to-be and volunteer firefighter Sam McPaul died when a freak fire tornado flipped his eight-tonne RFS truck at Jingellic, outside Albury on the southern NSW border.

He was with the Culcairn North West brigade as they fought to save properties along the Murray River and his crew had entered a paddock to round up cattle.

They were on flat ground, just 50m from the farm gate with little around them to burn. But the Green Valley fire was so large, it created its own weather system, known as a pyrocumulonimbus, whipping up 140kph winds. Two of his crew mates were injured.

Mr McPaul and his wife Megan had been married for 18 months and she was pregnant with their first child, due on May 4.

Culcairn fire captain Andrew Godde, who was in charge of the truck, described McPaul as a "ripping young bloke" who would always put others before himself.

"You hear people talk about these fireballs but I've never experienced anything like that before," he said.

 

Father and son Robert and Patrick Salway were killed trying to save their home and farming equipment from the raging Badja Forest blaze.
Father and son Robert and Patrick Salway were killed trying to save their home and farming equipment from the raging Badja Forest blaze.

December 30, 2019

Robert Salway, 63, and son Patrick Salway, 29

Wandella

Well-known dairy farmers Robert Salway, 63, and his son, Patrick, described as "salt of the earth blokes", died while trying to save their home and farming equipment from the raging Badja Forest fire tornado, which went on to destroy the main street of historic Cobargo.

They were found dead the following morning when Patrick's mother Janelle Salway returned to the family farm called Ashwood at Wandeall, about 10km northwest of Cobargo in the Bega Valley.

Patrick, whose best-known saying was "It'll be right" and his pregnant wife Renee, own a business called south coast Diary Tech where Patrick, a boilermaker and welder, looked after many local dairy farmers in the state's south.

Renee and the couple's little boy, Harley, left the property before the fires arrived.

She posted on social media shortly after their death and said that her family was "broken" as they dealt with the loss of the young father.

"I love you now, I love you still, I always have and I always will. I will see you again Patrick, my best friend," she said.

In more tragedy for the family, within 30 hours of their death, Robert's elderly mother Edna died without learning of her son and grandson's fate.

 

December 31, 2019

Laurie Andrews, 70

Yatte Yattah

Laurie Andrews, 70, was found dead outside his home on Myrtle Gully Rd, Yatte Yattah, after the deadly Currowan bushfire swept through the area and neighbouring Conjola.

A former Shoalhaven Water site supervisor, Mr Andrews was a founding member of the Mollymook Longboarders and was remembered by his surfing mates as an "all round great bloke" and stylish surfer.

Police said his body had no trauma or significant burns, and they did not believe there were any suspicious circumstances involved.

 

December 31. 2019

Man, 56

Coolagolite

Paramedics discovered a 56-year-old man's body outside a home at Coolagolite, near Cobargo where the massive Currowan blaze fires reduced properties to ash in just minutes. Neighbours said he was a loner who kept to himself.

 

Colin ‘Rover’ Burns was found in a burnt out vehicle at Belowra, about 50km north west of Cobargo, after a large-scale bushfire impacted the area.
Colin ‘Rover’ Burns was found in a burnt out vehicle at Belowra, about 50km north west of Cobargo, after a large-scale bushfire impacted the area.

December 31, 2019. Belowra

Col Burns, 72

Belowra

Volunteer firefighter Col Burns, 72, wasn't on duty but he died protecting his own isolated property on Woila Creek Fitr at the head of the Belowra Valley from the out-of-control 64,000ha Badja Forest Rd fire near Cooma.

It was the same fire that flared in the east, hitting towns including Cobargo.

The isolated tiny hamlet of Belowra, with just nine residents, was ringed by fire and locals reported Mr Burns was unaccounted for. But it was several days before emergency services could get to him and his body was found.

 

January 1, 2020

Man, 75

Yatte Yattah

The body of a 75-year-old man was found shortly before 7.30am in a burnt-out car on a road off the Princes Highway at Yatte Yattah, near the fire ravaged community of Lake Conjola where 89 homes were lost.

 

January 1, 2020

Man, 62

Sussex Inlet

The body of a 62-year-old man was found in his car at Sussex Inlet on the state's south coast where the road was burnt out and locals and holiday-makers had evacuated to the beach.

David Harrison has been hailed a hero after he died helping his friend Geoff defend his property against the catastrophic blaze that overran Batlow. Picture: Facebook
David Harrison has been hailed a hero after he died helping his friend Geoff defend his property against the catastrophic blaze that overran Batlow. Picture: Facebook

January 4, 2020

David Harrison, 47

Batlow

Mr Harrison died of a heart attack as he battled to save his best mate's home from the Dunns Rd blaze that swept through the apple town. He had known Geoff Purcell since school and refused to leave him even at the urging of his three older brothers in Goulburn who had begged him to evacuate.

He told them that he and Mr Purcell had a plan to get out. Mr Purcell found his friend unconscious in his ute when he failed to return from a run to get water on the farm.

Mr Harrison's brother Peter said he had no prior heart conditions.

"I just think he was overcome by heat, smoke, exhaustion, running around trying to put out spot fires everywhere," Peter Harrison said.

"He's a hero in our eyes. A great Aussie hero."

He said David had never married or had children and lived alone on the family property in Goulburn.

But he was "hands down" the favourite uncle to his nine nieces and nephews. "He was infectious," he said. "He'd walk in a room and you'd just smile."

 

John Smith, 71, of Nerrigundah, died on New Year’s Eve fighting to save his property. Picture: Facebook
John Smith, 71, of Nerrigundah, died on New Year’s Eve fighting to save his property. Picture: Facebook

January 6, 2020

John Smith, 71

Nerrigundah

Mr Smith, who retired from Moruya TAFE, is believed to have died on New Year's Eve fighting to save his property in the tiny community of Nerrigundah, inland from Bodalla, from the Badja Forest Road fire.

He had lost contact with his wife Josie and their daughter Emerald, 10.

His body was found on January 6, after police co-ordinated a large-scale land search and were able to access the property.

He was found dead between the property and a car, which had both been destroyed.

Emerald Smith had earlier used the Coles gift cards she had been given for her birthday to buy treats and make up goodie bags for members of the RFS Long Beach brigade on the south coast to take on their truck.

On every bag she wrote beautiful messages like: "Thank you for spending YOUR time for OUR lives".

 

The morning after a devastating blaze destroyed homes and businesses in the small town of Cobargo. The town has been decimated by fire. An unburnt Telstra phone box in the Main Street of Cobargo. Picture Gary Ramage
The morning after a devastating blaze destroyed homes and businesses in the small town of Cobargo. The town has been decimated by fire. An unburnt Telstra phone box in the Main Street of Cobargo. Picture Gary Ramage

 

January 18, 2020

Man, 84

Cobargo

A Cobargo man, 84, was remembered as a genuine "country boy" following his death after he suffered critical burns at his home in the bushfires that ripped through the town on New Year's Eve.

It is believed he was trying to defend his property when he and his dog Bella were overrun by fire. He was taken to South East Regional Hospital before being transferred to Concord Hospital's Burns Unit from which he was discharged.

He remained in the area for additional treatment and just after 2am on Saturday, January 18, he sought medical assistance after feeling unwell and later went into cardiac arrest.

Police said that despite the efforts of hospital staff, he could not be revived.


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