The ocean could clearly be seen from Lawrence Hargrave Drive at Coalcliff where two homes once stood, a brick chimney the remaining structure still intact.
Fire ripped through the properties Friday night also destroying a boat, car and damaging a third home.
The Illawarra Mercury spoke to one of the witnesses first on scene who wished to remain anonymous out of “respect” to his dear friends the Snowsill family.
After returning from dinner, the young man and his brother saw a glow on the escarpment from their home on Paterson Road in Coalcliff.
At first they thought it was a bonfire until the wind picked up and they realised it was more serious.
“We thought ‘that’s the Snowsills’ house, that’s their house, crap,’ ” he said.
It was a home he knew well, a place he “grew up in” after becoming mates with one of Ms Snowsill’s sons.
The young man and his family quickly headed up the hill to try and fight the fire with garden hoses but they couldn’t get enough water pressure.
Fire crews shortly arrived with a final count of 20 crews in attendance.
Beth Parker lives a few doors up with her partner, both concerned the gusty winds would make the fire spread further.
“We started watching TV and about to cook dinner and we had a neighbour knock on the door say there was a fire and we needed to get out of the house,” Ms Parker said.
“When we came out the whole sky was just burning. It was like, oh my God, this is something you see on the movies.
“We literally grabbed the dog and our car keys and left the house … it’s just heartbreaking, the poor people that have lost everything.”
How events unfolded
Emergency services received multiple 000 calls shortly before 7.30pm Friday to a house fire on Lawrence Hargrave Drive at Coalcliff.
"The first arriving crews were faced with a really difficult situation,” Duty Commander for the Illawarra Jay Bland said.
“We had one house fully involved in fire and we had prevailing winds that were in excess of 50km/h that were causing the fire to spread to adjoining properties.”
The Bureau of Meteorology recorded gusts of 70km/h during the blaze while firefighters were also faced with exploding gas cylinders and live power mains that had to be isolated.
A 200 metre exclusion zone was set up around the homes with 16 people evacuated and trains bypassing a stop at Coalcliff.
While Lawrence Hargrave Drive remained closed between Lady Wakehurst Drive and Clifton School Parade for more than six hours.
Smoke from the incident filled the air of the Northern Illawarra and could be smelt as far south as Thirroul.
It took firefighters about an hour-and-a-half to contain the blaze. Two homes and a boat were completely destroyed, while a third home and car were damaged.
"I've got to say that the multi-agency response to this job has been fantastic and the collaboration between the two agencies - Fire and Rescue and Rural Fire Service - essentially prevented this fire from spreading any further,” Inspector Bland said.
"I can't praise the fire fighters' actions highly enough. What they did tonight, they prevented this fire from spreading to other properties and they should be commended for that.”
The story ‘The whole sky was burning’: Coalcliff residents left reeling first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.