Tathra homes destroyed: ‘We just took essentials and memorabilia’

Jaime Watson and Gavin Howard woke on Monday morning to tragic television images of their Tathra home completely destroyed by fire.

Now barely recognisable, and left with just its foundations, the pair left their home on Francis Hollis Dr on Sunday afternoon as embers and flames moved quickly in their direction.

Someone showed us a picture from television this morning, it’s completely gone.

Tathra resident Jaime Watson

“We got a call from a friend to see if we knew anything about a fire, so we looked towards Thompsons and we could see the smoke, and the wind started to pick up,” Ms Watson said.

“The wind spotted it to the house across the road.

“We were lucky, we got some stuff before we left.”

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The pair had only just returned from a camping trip, their bags still packed in their car.

“We just took essentials and memorabilia,” Mr Howard said.

The pair were among around 300 locals and holiday makers evacuated to the Bermagui Surf Club on Sunday as the fire destroyed an estimated 70 homes.

Many were billeted out to stay with families, while others camped by the surf club, all unsure what remains of their homes and belongings in Tathra.

NSW Police sergeant Brendan O'Mahony and Bermagui Surf Club's Neil Rutherford provide evacuees with information on Monday morning. Photo: Alasdair McDonald

NSW Police sergeant Brendan O'Mahony and Bermagui Surf Club's Neil Rutherford provide evacuees with information on Monday morning. Photo: Alasdair McDonald

A former State Emergency Service Volunteer, Ms Watson was part of the first response crew to the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, and still has strong memories of the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983.

“I grew up with bushfires and we always had a plan to get everything important, so my photos and papers are always together in a plastic container,” she said.

“My advice to everyone is if you live in the bush go to your Rural Fire Service meetings and have an emergency pack ready.

“You have to be aware of where you’re living.”

Ms Watson and Mr Howard were offered a place to stay at Beauty Point, the offer one of many being made by concerned Bermagui residents.

Ms Watson said the events of Sunday happened so quickly, many people had no time to react, including an elderly resident on their street they helped to safety.

“We were told yesterday our house was gone, but we weren’t sure.” Ms Watson said.

“Someone showed us a picture from television this morning, it’s completely gone.”

One Tathra resident described seeing around 40 to 50 people crammed into a boat being towed to safety heading north.

“There were so many people in a five metre boat,” they said.

A resident of Vimy Ridge Rd at Chinnock, said after evacuating her family to accommodation in Tathra they were further evacuated to Bermagui.

Residents north of Tathra also evacuated to Bermagui, worried a change of wind direction could send the then out of control fire their way.

Greg Jones drove from work in Bega over Dr George Mountain Rd to get home to Tanja before making his way north to Bermagui, sleeping the night in a caravan.

“It was scary as, there were big chunks of debris flying across the road everywhere from the strong winds,” he said.

“When I got home we had time to fill the pump, put water in the gutters and stuff like that.”

Many holiday makers were too distraught to talk after leaving belongings behind after running to Tathra Beach before catching rides with helpful strangers to Bermagui.

“We just want to put it behind us,” one said.

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