WHEN Karen Adler was woken by howling winds at 3am on Saturday morning she knew something was wrong.
“I went outside and cars were driving down the road, which is very unusual, and I stopped the first lady, who said she could see the fires in the distance,” the mother-of-three from Huonbrook, north-eastern NSW, told The AJN this week.
“The second person I stopped said they were honking their horn to wake everyone up because she could see the fires as well.”
Adler ran back inside, woke up her husband and children, grabbed the bags they had packed the previous evening and evacuated.
“At night, all you can see is black silhouettes, but on that night we saw this giant red glow.
“We just knew we had to get out as soon as possible.”
After the weather calmed slightly, the fire was reduced from catastrophic to watch-and-act on Sunday.
“We went back to the house and there were spot fires all around the home – within metres of the house – so we called the fire brigade and they quenched some of the bigger ones.
“We were able to save some possessions and put them in our container storage at Byron Bay.”
But Sunday was just the calm before the storm, and Adler said everyone was preparing themselves for Tuesday and Wednesday when conditions were set to worsen.
“There is no humidity, the wind is picking up now and we are just at the mercy of the weather.
“It’s not safe to go home at all.”
Adler and her family only moved to Huonbrook in January because it has one of the highest rainfall rates in NSW.
“We don’t know how long this will be for, but we didn’t even have contents insurance because we didn’t think we were at risk of bushfires.
“Now we just have to wait and hope that the house is okay.”
At the time of press on Wednesday morning, 83 fires were still burning in NSW while more than 300 homes had been destroyed since Friday. Three people had lost their lives and a number of firefighters had been injured.
More than 60 fires were burning in Queensland.
David Schrader, who lives in Wauchope near Port Macquarie, said living 150 metres from bushland is causing concern. “We are ready to jump to action,” he told The AJN.
“We are fairly lucky because they did some back-burning about eight months ago, so it has prevented the catastrophic potential that a lot of people in the area are faced with.
Schrader said he lives near the Rural Fire Service headquarters, so he hopes if something does eventuate there will be enough firefighters in the area.
He said the smoke, however, has been extremely problematic.
“I found myself struggling today and I put that down to the fact that I am probably breathing a little less oxygen during the day.
“It’s very unpleasant.”
Rabbi Mosheh Serebryanski from Habayit Chabad Byron said the fires have been unpredictable and scary.
“It hasn’t hit the most populated areas yet, but people are being evacuated, they are losing their houses and it’s too close for comfort for all of us,” he said.
He told The AJN that residents are coming together well, a positive by-product of difficult situations.
“The local community’s support for one another is inspirational.
“I am on hand, as is Jewish House in Sydney, to send any resources we can to help those in need.”
Chabad of Regional and Rural Australia’s Rabbi Yossi Rodal regularly visits the areas now under threat from fire.
“They are people we know and people we speak to regularly, so it’s a difficult time,” Rabbi Rodal said.
“I know that next time I go it will look very different because the areas are facing complete devastation.”
Rabbi Rodal said that everyone he spoke to this week had smoke outside of their homes.
“The kids are home from school and they are just taking them to work so they aren’t left alone because it’s safer to be at work rather than home.”
Meanwhile, former AJN photographer Noel Kessel, a volunteer with the Rural Fire Service, was on standby at Cottage Point in Sydney’s north on Tuesday.
He described the weather conditions as similar to the 1994 bushfires that devastated much of Sydney’s north shore and northern beaches, saying the situation is “pretty tense”.