A bushfire rages out of control. Devastated: The Beattie family’s home. Photo: James Alcock
Carl Beattie stands on the Katoomba street where his family home stood. Photo: James Alcock
Saturday was the Beattie family’s third brush with a destructive fire in a year.
This time it claimed their Blue Mountains home.
Little more than a year ago, a bushfire at Winmalee also ripped through 17-year-old Frieda’s school, St Columbas. Another fire, thought to be deliberately lit, struck again just last month. The HSC student’s major work was destroyed.
Then on Saturday another bushfire climbed without warning over a Katoomba cliff face and loomed over the Beatties’ street.
They escaped minutes before the street was engulfed, leaving only their home gutted.
The fire that destroyed their home was one of at least 76 blazes which burned across the state at the weekend.
On Sunday, RFS firefighters worked to contain 40 out-of-control fires including a blaze at Kurri Kurri which at one point burned perilously close to properties.
RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said some fires were sparked by natural causes but others were deliberately lit.
One fire, in the Garigal National Park, started from four separate ignition points.
The Beattie family thought they were safe when a fire burning in the Megalong Valley, appeared out of sight by lunchtime on Saturday.
But by four-o-clock Chris Beattie decided to check what was happening outside after hearing a hovering helicopter.
“He got home from work and was going to have a shower,” his brother Carl said.
“He could only see a little bit of smoke across the road. But it jumped over the cliff so fast. He ran back inside, got the car and drove.”
A trail of smoke turned into flames engulfing gum trees 15 metres high, within five minute, witnesses said.
They were pushed over the cliff face by swirling hot winds strong enough to knock over a neighbour’s fence kilometres away.
Some veteran firefighters described the conditions as the worst they had seen in decades.
By 3.45 pm, the flames were on their verandah and the neighbouring Grabham family had no time to escape with any more than the dog.
“We thought we were going to be burnt to death,” Greg Grabham said.
The Beatties returned to their Brougham Street on Sunday.
Corrugated roof sheeting lay contorted on the ground, next to a burnt Hills Hoist and amongst shattered window glass and a screen door off its hinges.
“We’re sad to lose all our stuff,” Mr Beattie said. “But that can be rebuilt. We’re just happy to be safe”.
Police were investigating the scene of the blaze on Sunday, amid suspicions it was deliberately lit.
“When there’s a lack of lightning it always gives rise to that suspicion,” said Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill.
“Three weeks ago we had snow.”
About a dozen fire truck crews stood watch on the other side of the ridge on Sunday, as the six hectare blaze remained burning out of control, beyond them at the bottom of the cliff face.
Helicopters dumped water with regular flyovers. But firefighters were unable to do much more than stand watch, in case of another sudden change of wind that might bring the fires back over a thicket of gum trees again toward the centre of Katoomba, about three kilometres away.
Controlled hazard reduction burns were cancelled on Saturday after a total fire ban was put in place for most of NSW.
“Almost everything got postponed. The amount of fire we were dealing with, we weren’t going to introduce any more,” Mr Rogers said..
“Our official fire season comes in on the first of October, so I don’t believe this is an earlier fire season for NSW,” he said.