The stresses of moving house only got worse for Rachel Bailey on Friday when the truck hauling her family’s belongings from Tanilba Bay to Maitland got caught in Salt Ash amid the emergency bushfires.
A quick stop to collect items from her mother Robyn Langley’s Lemon Tree Passage Road property became a brush with the blazes with the truck stuck at road closures until mid-morning.
Updates from the ground: Salt Ash fire ground scorches more than 1300 hectares
Adding to the pressure, Ms Bailey said she feared a flight out of Williamtown on Saturday morning to begin a family holiday was also under a literal cloud as smoke pouring over the area posed issues for Newcastle Airport.
Ms Langley, who has lived in the area 33 years, said Salt Ash residents were familiar with the fear, destruction and suspense bushfires delivered.
“You get aware, but you don’t get blasé because you can’t,” she said. “We’ve had some bad ones, we’ve had loss of life and loss of houses, and we’be had some that came awfully, awfully close.”
Across the road, Marilyn and Rob Sanderson said the ordeal never changed.
“You never get used to it,” Mr Sanderson said. “It still tightens the sphincter muscles.”
Mr Sanderson said their property was fitted with pumps and generators to withstand a potential loss of electricity.
“When you live here everything works off power because there’s no town water,” he said. “Without electricity, we don’t have water.”
“We’ve spent a lot of money fire-proofing as much as we can ... if you don’t, honestly you’re a mug.”
Despite the risk of fires, when nearby Rookes Road became a wall of fire trucks, the Sandersons said it was simply part of life in Salt Ash.
“It’s a great place to live,” Mr Sanderson said.
Choppers and planes looped over the land near Rookes Road and Lemon Tree Passage Road, with horses in front paddocks as residents hosed down roofs and fire crackled at the back fences of large, rural blocks.
Rookes Road’s Matt Mitchell, whose property sits opposite black trees and shooting growth where the August fires closed on his family home, said his 12 years in the suburb prepared him for bushfires.
Despite that, the location of the fire was unique.
“It’s never come around the back,” he said.
Mr Mitchell ran sprinklers on trees in his yard, his children playing nearby. “That bit there’s a risk, so I’m watering it,” he said.
His land also offered firefighters a thoroughfare through to the Lemon Tree Passage Road properties in the path of the blaze, many sitting deep back from the road amid the bush.
Asked if the fires worried him, Mr Mitchell was unequivocal.
“Not at all, because we are prepared,” he said. “The premiums worry me.”
Bree Mitchell said she left her husband and family to head to work, getting caught outside the area for the second time since the blaze began on Thursday.
“Today I went into work and pretty much turned around,” she said
Caught in the closures, it was mid-morning before she returned.
“My boss asked if I was going to log back on when I got home,” she said.
The Mitchells’ neighbour, Dale Wenham said he was comforted by the huge contingent of firefighters.
“They’re bloody good,” he said.
“It’s a good road, this, because everyone helps each other.”
Having been in Salt Ash five years and facing his second fire in a few months, Mr Wenham admitted to a bit of nervousness.
“They do worry me, I’d be lying if I said they didn’t,” Mr Wenham said.
Looking at his neighbour, he couldn’t resist a bit of humour.
“Move to Salt Ash, they said. It will be fine, they said,” Mr Wenham joked.
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