A moving image of a man, known only as “Johnno”, carrying 83-year-old Eunice Bradford to safety during Sunday’s bushfire spread quickly on social media this week, as her family sought to thank the mysterious saviour.
His name is Shane Johnson, a 44-year-old disability worker, who only moved to the coastal town from Cooma late last year, and says he’s “embarrassed” by the spread of the image.
The smoke was that thick and black, we weren’t going to make it that far.Shane Johnson
“They could have got me from the other side, it’s my worst side,” he said with a laugh.
When the power was cut to his Tathra unit on Sunday, Mr Johnson said he never expected it would lead to what he describes as the “apocalyptic” and “ghost-like” scenes of Monday morning.
While taking a nap, he was woken by the strong smell of smoke quickly filling the room.
Half an hour later flames surged towards the town high above the trees, and many residents, like Mr Johnson, took refuge along Tathra Beach.
“When the fire came over the hill at a rate of knots, it was ridiculous,” he said.
While on the sand Mr Johnson, who has only moved to the town a few months ago, met Eunice, who suffers from osteoporosis, and her daughter Rhonda.
“It was nice to meet the ladies, because I didn’t really know anyone, and it felt comfortable to be in a group,” he said.
“We were cracking jokes to take the edge off.”
After a few hours on the beach, flames were visible atop houses and fatigue was beginning to set in, so Mr Johnson did what he could to help.
“She was knackered, so I started to carry her,” he said.
“The smoke was that thick and black, we weren’t going to make it that far.
“It still looked like the fire was in town, then the southerly clicked and it cleared a bit.
“It was hectic.”
The group parted ways, and Mr Johnson said they joked “if everything was okay, we would catch up for coffee after”.
“The fact we came through this is amazing,’ he said.
“From something awful we bonded really well.”
The Bradfords made their way to Bega, and later the comfort of a relatives home in Merimbula, while Mr Johnson returned to town to let his children in Cooma know he was safe.
“When that sort of thing happens, you realise family is the most important thing,” he said.
The experience has taught him many lessons, he said.
“I guess I probably should have taken it more seriously when I saw the smoke,” he said.
“there was no real communication, so next time I would get out and head in the opposite direction of the smoke.
“I would definitely take it more seriously, because there were people just taking videos.”
“I didn’t know what the hell was going on.”
He said with everyone leaving town at the same time a bottleneck in traffic was created, and he was walking faster than the moving traffic.
“My plan was I always thought I could go to the beach, but it all happened so quickly,” he said.
“People were a bit panicky.”