Duncan McLaughlin doesn't want bushfire history to repeat, but if it does he's a good student - and his lead mare Sophie knows her ABC.
The Bodalla endurance rider and his parents planned well ahead for the fire which finally swept through their Bumbo Road acreage on the afternoon of Thursday, January 23.
The former Bay Post/Moruya Examiner reporter posted live videos on social media as the fire approached and, heartbreakingly, when the family finally took shelter in a cellar, convinced their herd of seven Arabian horses was doomed.
"We have been living this fire for nearly four weeks," Dunc told Australian Community Media on Friday.
In that time, the family has put Plans A, B and C into action.
On New Year's Eve, Dunc was home alone, ready for the worst. At 11.30pm, his hope that the German Creek fire would bypass him was dashed when he climbed a neighbouring hill.
"I saw it coming," he said.
Plan A was to put a halter on Sophie and set out for the neighbouring dairy paddocks.
"The others followed over a rickety bridge, through gates and around cattle grids in the dark," he said.
"They were amazing; they had complete trust."
He followed the fire plan, filling buckets of water in the house, extending hoses around the structure, flexing the main fire hose and checking all was in order.
The fire teased, stopped a few hundred metres away and waited.
"There was a change of wind and the fire stalled," Dunc said.
"That fire sat a couple of kilometres from our gate for three weeks."
On January 4, with his parents Sue and George home and another horrid day threatening, the family made the big decision to evacuate to Moruya Showground with all the animals.
"I was always in two minds about that," Dunc said.
"The evacuation was six hours to get them all there and six hours to get them back."
The farm was spared again, but not the nerves of horses and humans.
"We were there for two days; it was very stressful," Dunc said. "We decided we would not do that again."
The family stayed in emergency mode for another two weeks - then let their guard down.
"We started to unwind. We took the water buckets out of the house, we did not keep horse food in our cars and we did not stockpile water," Dunc said.
The fire was waiting for such a lapse.
On Thursday, when all the phones on the desks at Eurobodalla Shire Council began to give the Moruya emergency warning, the communications officer headed home.
"Even driving home, I was looking west and thought we would be fine," Dunc said.
"The fire was so far north, I thought I would get home, go through the plan and we probably wouldn't even need it."
By the time he reached home, alerted his parents and changed into his fire gear, the fire was rolling down from the west towards the house.
In a perfect fire storm, the family would have enacted a cool Plan A, at a pinch a more hurried Plan B, but they found themselves racing to enact Plan C: "Do what you can as quickly as you can, stay safe and live."
His parents turned on sprinklers and Dunc rolled out the main fire hose.
They went to move the horses, but "the fire was already there".
Dunc and Sue rushed to remove rugs and fly veils and opened most internal paddock gates.
Sophie had her own fire plan, but the humans wouldn't listen.
"They were in the paddock closest to the fire," Dunc said.
"They kept going back in. I had to shoo them out and close the gate.
"Then we watered."
They soaked gardens and surrounds. When the fire rolled south past them, they dared to hope.
"I thought we would be okay," Dunc said, but fresh fire came with ferocity from the north - and it was all on.
"It hit and surrounded us," Duncan said.
"That is when our water systems failed."
He blames the plastic covers over tap fittings.
"All our pipes are buried, but we have plastic covers over levers; the covers burned, then the levers stopped working and we got leaks all over the property," he said.
The family's back-up plan was old-school but effective: they attacked spot fires with dry woolen blankets, which worked until the heat and smoke became too much.
"All around the house was enveloped; it was hot, we could not see a foot in front," Dunc said.
With all outbuildings aflame and out of choices, they retreated to the concrete cellar. They sheltered, fearing the worst for the herd, as Dunc's increasingly anguished social media posts and text messages attested to.
"Everything gone except the house; expect ponies dead; we're sheltering under the house," he texted.
Duncan said the previous owner built the home to withstand bushfire, siting it low on the hill, using concrete blocks and little exposed timber. The cellar shielded them from the heat.
"The whole underneath area is completely concrete, above and around," he said.
"Once we were in there, we were confident. We peeked out the little doorway and the fire was all around, but we felt safe."
The experience is not one they wish to repeat, but it has given them lessons and confidence for future fires.
Meanwhile, the herd remains stressed, but apparently unscathed.
"They huddle together like they are processing it," Dunc said on Friday.
He is impressed with their survival instincts, under the guidance of Anglo-Arabian lead mare, Sophie, who did not always agree with the judgement of her humans.
The family emerged from the cellar to find Sophie had insisted on the final word.
The gate of the first paddock nearest the fire front had blown open and they had gone back in.
"That is where we found them, on a little unburned patch," Dunc said.
"They wanted to be there the whole time. Sophie arranged that. She is the most practical horse on the planet. I think she saved them.
"I was expecting to see them dead. We have dead deer and wallabies, but they seem unscathed."
He felt a cascade of "disbelief, relief, amazement"; "How can this be? Thank God this has happened."
His take-home message is you need a plan, and a couple more, a plan for every level.
"We had that, so we were still able to function," he said.
Now that the worst has come, there is a strange relief.
"The event is better than the waiting," Dunc said.
The constant question, "is it coming?" was exhausting.
"Now it has happened, it is a mess, but we can move on," he said.
Dunc watched impressed as the Army moved into efficient gear with council crews, clearing the access road on Friday to the neighbouring dairy farm of Robert and Barb Eder.
He praised Mr Eder who spent Thursday night hosing his burning haystack to prevent the fire spreading.
"He had already saved his houses and dairy shed," Dunc said.
He was also impressed with a neighbouring grove of pecan trees which was "completely unaffected" as the fire front moved through: "The European trees are fine, but the eucalyptus and she oaks ..."
"What vexes me is people living in the suburbs dictating what and where rural people can build," he said.
"Us rural folks out in the forests understand the risks involved and take the appropriate precautions.
"We don't expect emergency services to save us - we save ourselves. If and when services arrive to help, that's an appreciated bonus. I reckon that's a bit more resilient than those in the suburbs bleating on, while the shire burns, about their bin not getting emptied that week."