While many Tathra residents noted the presence of the nearby fire on March 18, 2018, they did not believe it was a threat and "continued with what they were doing", according to new research.
This research also found there was an "absence of adequate emergency information", so many had to seek information through direct observation of smoke, flames and the activities of neighbours and emergency services.
Released on Friday, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre's (CRC) report into the fire that began in Reedy Swamp and destroyed 65 homes and damaged 48 around the Tathra district examined community preparedness and responses.
Overall, its key findings describe a lack of preparation by residents and awareness of the risk, as well as inadequate information available from emergency services.
The report states many Tathra residents had not considered a bushfire could impact the town, or had not considered the potential for a fire to penetrate beyond the forest edge, for example via embers.
Many thought bushfire preparation was something that should be done when directly threatened by fire, not well in advance.
Some were unaware of the fire risk and had done "little or nothing" to prepare for a bushfire, and only a small number of households in the interview sample had dedicated firefighting resources.
While many were aware of the severe fire danger rating or hot and windy conditions forecast for March 18, 2018, there was "little evidence of preparatory activity in response".
Also, the report found many did not receive warnings or received them late due to power and mobile phone outages.
It stated the loss of power and mobile phone coverage and the "limited emergency information broadcast on ABC Local Radio" contributed to uncertainty and confusion about whether, when and where to evacuate, with many relying on advice from police and others in the fire-affected area.
The report was commissioned by the NSW Rural Fire Service and involved interviews with 120 people affected by the fire.
The CRC said the RFS would use the report to review and refine its approach to public information and warnings as well as the structure and content of warning messages, and it had begun piloting community field liaison teams to provide consistent messages and advice on the ground.