What a start to the year. I’m lost for words and I can’t even begin to explain how I feel or the events we have experienced over the last couple of weeks. The bushfires that have ravaged our country are out of control, and it’s not until you witness it first hand that you become aware of such devastating loss.
What had been planned for a relaxed Christmas and New Year at our house in Manyana with family, quickly turned into a stressful and terrifying nightmare! Warnings were sent out - “avoid any unnecessary travel and seek shelter as fire arrives” on everyone’s mobile phones. The scary part was that it was difficult to work out where the fire actually was and where it had travelled to, due to the lack of resources and the widespread area the fire had  already engulfed. It’s been smokey here for quite a number of weeks, but it wasn’t until we saw that big dark grey, brown tinged, cloud of smoke building higher and higher into the air, thick and angry, that we knew things were about to be thrown into chaos. 
Although it was already a hot Westerly wind, you could feel the heat coming off the fire as it unpredictably tore through homes and bushland in Lake Conjola on New Years Eve and into Berringer Lake and Manyana. Standing on the top of a sand dune near Green Island looking down towards the lake that day was an image I’ll never forget. Hundreds of people taking refuge with boats, cars and caravans... with billowing clouds of smoke overhead and glowing red all around. The fire was a torturous and ravaging monster destroying everything in its path. It was so scary.
We were without power, and with extremely limited phone reception and internet for 7 days after that day. People were running out of food. Our little town of Manyana only has one road in and that was destroyed too. Hundreds of visitors were also trapped as the road was unsafe to travel on and the threat of another fire was approaching. 
We were kept up to date as much as possible though community meetings, but information was still limited. I’d sit in the car in the driveway each evening listening to ABC radio 97.3 trying to work out what was going on… An attempt was made to evacuate everyone on the Wednesday, but only 20 cars were escorted out before Bendalong Rd and the Princes Highway were closed again due to more spot fires and unsafe conditions.
It was difficult to function normally. The sky was filled with helicopters and planes and even the massive 737 jet dumping retardant to try and contain the blaze. That was surreal. Our house was in the flight path right when the plane was at it’s lowest point as it descended in big circles to get to its target - it was so loud and scarily huge!!! Just like a passenger jet flying over but so low you could make out every detail of its underside. We passed time by walking the beach and trying to keep the kids occupied. Dad made a ropes course in some of the trees out the back out of some beautiful vintage rope we’d bought from India. Our backyard became the local playground for all of the kids looking for some fun! And some of the locals have an ice cream truck, so they were pretty popular with the kids (and big kids!). 
We walked over to Lake Conjola to visit my cousin and some of her relatives who had holiday houses there. Between them, they were hosting (and feeding) 3 or 4 families who had lost their homes. There’s only 1 road into Conjola too (which was also fire ravaged and closed), so food supplies were getting extremely limited. Their stories were terrifying and it’s difficult to imagine how they must have felt or what they went through. Psychologically life changing I would expect.
Danny, the kids and I finally got out on Friday after queuing in the car (in Manyana) for around 4 and a half hours. With such limited knowledge as to what was going on and where the fire had spread, we were worried about our warehouse in Woollamia and had to get up there to prepare and protect it in case the wind changed and the fire spread. After seeing it in action on New Years Eve there was no way of predicting where it would travel. 
Image: The Bendalong Rd as we drove out on Friday... not a leaf leaf left on the trees in some areas...
We’d prepared our houses as best we could and packed our car with our valuable belongings (it makes you realise how unimportant most of the things you own are!) but it was an awful uncomfortable feeling driving off not knowing what we would come back to and we were also nervous about our journey ahead. We felt like we were leaving our home exposed, and wondered what we would come home to. But those of you in business would understand that if we didn’t save our warehouse and all of the stock inside, we most probably wouldn’t have our house either, so we had to go.
On our way out of Manyana it was almost like there was nothing left to burn. Not a leaf left on most trees and you could see right through what used to be thick, dense bush. Power poles were merely black stumps with electrical wires tangled all over the ground.
And then came Saturday.
Another nervous day. The fire tore through the back of Manyana and North Bendalong destroying even more bush land and threatening homes with terrifying force - it got right to the back fence of a lot of properties, but again we were saved by the Southerly...  
So many families have lost their homes, their businesses and so much more. The firies did such an AMAZING job in Manyana without a single house burnt and with extremely limited resources (they were tirelessly defending Manyana, Cunjurong, Bendlaong and Berringer Lake with only 2 trucks at times!). They’d been on all day and night and some seriously injured and burnt and airlifted out. The community of Manyana is really something special. Everyone has come together to help each other and to protect their town. 
Our thoughts and prayers are with those families who have lost their homes and also to those who have lost or experienced damage to their business. Their devastation and loss is unimaginable and we will be looking to help wherever we can.
On a related note, we are sending out big love to Turia Pitt and Gracie McBride and their exciting initiative #spendwiththem as well as the crews from the #emptyesky and #staywiththem campaigns. We have experienced first hand the devastation the Bush Fire Crisis brought to many people, animals and the land, but it has also put an economical dark cloud over our usually bright small villages and towns. We ask of you, now that it is safe and the fires are easing, please come and visit our beautiful South Coast and Central Coast towns. Come shopping with us, and all of the other beautiful boutique stores, enjoy a meal at the local cafes (we can send you recommendations!) and stay the night in our hotels, motels and Air BnB's. We have seen impact through all of our locations, especially our Huskisson and Leura stores, and our neighbouring stores too, all of which are painfully quiet at what should have been all of our busiest times. 
Show your support for our surrounding communities and find your own way to help out. Visit Spend With Them (shopping), Empty Esky  (food) and Stay With Them (accommodation) to plan an amazing day trip, weekend or longer visit to our local communities that have been affected by the bush fire.  We look forward to welcoming you to our 'neck of the woods' for a weekend away soon, with open hearts and big smiles!