Australian couple cry with relief to find home still standing after wildfires

Emergency and fire services survey the area as smoke from nearby bushfires fill the sky around Nowra, New South Wales, on Dec 31, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

MALUA BAY, AUSTRALIA (REUTERS) - Ray and Isobel Webbie know they are among the lucky ones after being able to save their house from wildfires in Malua Bay in New South Wales, but they are not taking any chances, expecting more blazes across the area on Saturday (Jan 4).

After evacuating to the beach on Monday, they returned to find their home of 26 years was still standing after bush fires swept through Malua Bay in the Batemans Bay area on New Year's Eve, destroying hundreds of homes, including the house next door and the entire bushland behind them.

Mr Ray Webbie said safety precautions he took before leaving the house saved it, including filling the gutters with water and hosing down the roof and all the windows.

"I looked up into the sky (on Monday) and I saw black leaves. It was like raining black leaves because the fire was further west of us, where we are here at Malua Bay. So, I decided I had to quickly prepare the house because Tuesday I was expecting something real bad to happen, and it certainly did, as you can see," Ray said, standing with Isobel on their back deck observing the burnt bush all around.

He and Isobel evacuated to the beach about a kilometre away until the fire had passed.

"I cried when I turned the corner because I saw my house and it was still there from the front and I started to cry. I was that happy it was still there," he said.

But the worst of the fires aren't over.

Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on Australia's south-east coast, an area hugely popular in the current summer peak holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke the fires.

The New South Wales state government has declared a state of emergency, beginning on Friday, giving authorities the power to forcibly evacuate people and take control of services.

Mr Webbie said he would do what he did last time, and hope for the best.

"Well, we expect another catastrophic day on Saturday. I'm going to do exactly the same thing as I did the first time. I've got the gutter plugs in. They'll be left. I'll take all the dead stuff out of the gutter facing the bush, because the front one's clear ... Fill it up with water again. Hose the roof down again, all the external windows, deck and go."

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