WHILE most people were partying to welcome the new year or were sleeping, Heather Jones and Britt Saxby spent the first hours of 2020 facing flames.
The volunteer members of the Wallarah Rural Fire Brigade were among dozens fighting a blaze in bushland near a main road in western Lake Macquarie.
"Exhausting, very intense," said Heather Jones, the brigade's senior deputy captain.
The pair had come directly from the Charmhaven fire on the Central Coast to fight this blaze, after the bush near Wangi Road was reported alight late on New Year's Eve. A southerly that belted through made the firefighters' job tougher.
"When the wind picked up, it increased the intensity of the fire," Heather Jones said. "The embers were swirling."
Both firefighters saw "mini-tornadoes" ripping among the trees.
"You could see the vortex, and the flames going," Britt Saxby said.
At one stage, the fire threatened to jump the road.
On the other side were the Myuna underground colliery and the lakeside communities of Wangi Wangi and Arcadia Vale.
Wangi resident Rachel Mallaby could see the glow from her back yard.
"I had my stuff packed last night," Rachel Mallaby said. Police and RFS members reassured her she would be okay.
With ash falling, Rachel Mallaby spent part of January 1, her birthday, watering her deck, just to be sure.
Along the top of Donnelly Road, near Arcadia Vale, some residents were preparing to evacuate.
Debbie Frew was driving past a roadblock after checking on her 84-year-old mother, Virginia Vidler.
"We've got a bag packed at the front door for her, and she has an alarm around her neck, ready, if she wants to leave", Debbie Frew said.
The fire had forced the closure of Wangi Road for several kilometres, from Summerhill Drive to Dorrington Road. Traffic was diverted through Wangi Wangi and Arcadia Vale to Rathmines.
Around the time many were waking with a hangover, Heather Jones and Britt Saxby were just looking forward to breakfast and some sleep after being awake for more than 24 hours. When asked what their new year's wish was, both said the same word simultaneously: "Rain."
"And for all firefighters to be safe," said Britt Saxby.
The battle continued. By mid afternoon, the fire had burnt about 148 hectares.
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