CAUTION: Eyewitness and expert testimony to the events that took the life of Richard Steele in December, 2019, are unsettling. Australian Community Media urges caution for readers as this could be deeply upsetting.
The neighbour of a man who perished at Coolagolite during the Badja Forest Fire has told an inquiry he went from feeling "relatively safe" to "in danger" in the space of 60 seconds.
Richard Steele, known as Rick to his friends, was 56 years old when he died at a property on Coolagolite Road on December 31, 2019.
His death was the subject of a hearing as part of the NSW Bushfire Coronial Inquiry on Thursday, September 9.
Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan heard Mr Steele was living in a granny flat on a property owned by a friend of his in December, 2019.
The two men had a discussion on December 30 about the fire, and the second man gave evidence they weren't concerned at that point as the nearest fire was still "seven kilometres away" at Dignams Creek.
However, Mr Steele was awoken by a phone call from his friend at 4.40am on December 31 after the friend was awoken by a phone call from the RFS.
Coroner O'Sullivan heard the two men agreed on a plan to stay at the property and use a pump to bring water from the dam to help fight the fire, however a power cut at about 5.15am meant the pump no longer worked.
Both men then went into their homes to pack their belongings in preparation to leave the property.
"The fire was still about three kilometres away from the property when we decided to pack bags," the man told the court.
"It was probably about 30 minutes after the power went out that I was outside at my car and putting bags in when the wind changed.
"I threw one of my cats in the car, and when I looked up the fire was only about 500m away.
"By the time I got to the driver's door the flames were at my property's border, and my driveway was on fire by the time I'd left.
"It went from being relatively safe to being in trouble in less than 60 seconds."
The man said he drove up Coolagolite Road but became worried when Mr Steele's headlights didn't appear in his rear-view mirror.
"I tried to get back to the property, but I couldn't reach the granny flat," he said.
"I could see his car was still there."
Coroner O'Sullivan heard evidence that Mr Steele had sent text messages to his sister just before 6am, and it is believed those texts were the last communications he had with another person.
Unfortunately, Mr Steele's remains were found in the burnt granny flat on January 1, 2020.
In a family statement read to the court, Mr Steele's sister Martine described Rick as a "character who had a great smile and an easy-going, relaxed nature".
"He had a knack of making you feel comfortable in his presence by giving you his full attention with his large smile," the statement read.
Coroner O'Sullivan thanked Mr Steele's family, who were watching a live stream of the inquiry, for their bravery during the investigation into his death.
"Our thoughts are very much with you today, and thank you for being so generous in letting us get to know your brother a little better," she said.