THE threat of further bush fires ahead of the "catastrophic" weather conditions predicted earlier in November meant the roads between the Hunter and the Mid North Coast were to remained closed until further notice.
Given the circumstances, the road blocks were a mild inconvenience for most travellers. But they also meant that critical pathology tests from Taree could not be sent to John Hunter Hospital for urgent testing.
But a quick call to the NSW Rural Fire Service for an indication of when the roads might reopen resulted in a local pathology courier getting a police escort up the still smouldering surrounds of the Pacific Highway.
Pete Burgess, NSW Health's fleet and couriers manager for the region, said it was a wonderful example of services working together to ensure people received the care and help they needed.
"The highway was closed in both directions, and given the nature of the forecast, we had decided not to run the afternoon courier up to Taree the day before," Mr Burgess said.
"Taree has a fairly small lab up there, and they are quite limited in what they can test - the John Hunter is the supervising lab. But we just couldn't get anyone up there. The next morning, I checked the live traffic website, and that indicated the highway was still closed in both directions, and there were no diversions in place.
"So we were snookered, basically."
Mr Burgess said he had contacted the pathology lab at Manning Hospital in Taree to advise them of the situation.
"The lab manager, Deb Monk, indicated there were urgent patient samples that she really needed to get back to the John Hunter," he said. "Given the urgency of the tests, I contacted the Rural Fire Service to see if there was any indication when the road would reopen, and they referred me to the local area police command.
"Within five minutes, the command had called me back, and offered a police escort up the highway to collect the samples."
Mr Burgess said some pathology tests - particularly ones identifying serious infections and blood infections - only had a short window in which they would be tested.
"So once they are outside of that window, the samples are compromised," he said. "From my understanding, these particular tests had to be back within 24 hours of collection."
Mr Burgess said driving through the charred remains of bushland was surreal. He really felt for the families and communities that had been affected.
"The ground was covered in a thick blanket of ash," he said. "There were trees still smoldering on the medium strip, and there was a lot of debris on the road."