Tathra's Lizzie Doyle emerged from a movie screening up the coast to learn bushfire had razed her home of 35 years on Sunday.
Her family's house on the corner of Tathra and Bay streets, standing opposite a stretch of tea trees by the ocean, was in the path of fire which tore through the south coast town and by Sunday evening reduced the two-storey weatherboard to rubble except for a brick fireplace.
Only a neighbour could defend the property as Ms Doyle was on the NSW mid-north coast visiting her son Indi Wood, while his father Michael Wood was seeing a relative in Vietnam.
Indi, who now lives in Taree, said the family had bought the house as a one-storey fibro shack and had expected the bushfire threat to have passed well before Sunday.
While fortune had put all of his family safe and outside town at the weekend, it meant they couldn't defend the property from fire as it pushed into the town and destroyed homes.
Indi said the family was in shock and that the loss would not sink in until one of them could see the remains themselves.
"We always thought it would be a real shock for the fire to come through Tathra or around the coast to Tathra and hit that ti tree," he said.
He and his mother went into the cinema trying to escape the heat when fires were reported at Tarraganda, about 20km from Tathra. When they emerged, Indi's phone was full of messages asking if his family was safe while a neighbour told him the house was gone.
"The biggest thing for me has been most of us have been unable to stand in front of it and weigh up the situation, and take it in," he said.
"It's not going to have full impact until we see it."
Another Tathra family spent several hours desperately trying to track down a man who disappeared after checking on neighbours as "flames higher than the trees" closed in on properties on Sunday evening.
Paul Brunton, 59, finally contacted his daughter Tess about 10pm on Sunday to let them know he had escaped the blaze unharmed.
Tess, who now lives in Tasmania, said the hours she spent trying to locate her father, who doesn't have a mobile phone, were harrowing.
"It's the unknown that's the scariest. We heard hearsay about all our relatives, but Dad was the one person we couldn't account for," Tess said.
"We're just ecstatic that he's OK. He described a wall of fire in the reserve at the back of our house, and flames higher than the trees.
"He went to check on some older neighbours and made sure they were able to be evacuated, then spent the afternoon fighting spot fires."
Tess said the family's ordeal finally ended when Paul emailed her after returning home about 10pm.
While the Bruntons' family home at Tathra's Kianinny Bay wasn't damaged, at least 70 homes and in the NSW seaside town have been destroyed.
Tathra Beach House Apartments owner Rob White expected to lose his business as smoke poured into the town in the space of ten minutes forcing him to evacuate up to 50 guests from his buildings at 3pm.
A wind change, swinging around from northerly to southerly, may have saved the apartments as residents extinguished spot fires, Mr White said.
Houses behind the business, bordering on bushland, were less fortunate. On Monday morning, the beach house apartments had no broadband and parts of the property had no power.