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On the 4th of January

I was up really early. I couldn't sleep and the bad feeling from the day before had not gone away. I was at the fire station at 6.30am and we left for the fire front round 7.00am.

The fire at Copping was pretty bad. I remember the fire around the machinery shed there. There were chemicals in the shed that they couldn't identify for us.

When the fire got away we knew it was time to head for Dunalley. The township was directly in the path of the fire. For many of us, we had left our families there.

I had left my wife and daughter at Dunalley. They were still there, in the house. We'd prepared the house, and I thought we knew the bushfire plan, but when it came down to it, we hadn't decided where they would go. I sent them to Murdunna. I thought that would be the best place. I thought they would be safe. I hoped they would be safe.

When the fire hit Dunalley it went pitch black dark. We could see the fire. We could hear the roar of it. We felt the wind like a tornado whipped up by the firestorm.

The embers stick in my mind. I've never seen embers like it. It was like being in a snow storm. I remember looking over towards my house and it was being absolutely hammered by embers. It was like a snow storm of fire burning down. A firestorm of big, hot embers everywhere. They were flying across our place and down over the water. They weren't just little embers these were big embers – like a volcano.

The school was a priority for us and all the others that were there fighting the fire. We checked the school, we checked it quite a few times, and we thought it would be OK. We'd driven in, we'd been there two or three times. Others had checked it too.

It was pretty intense for a while. We got back to Craigs Hill Road around midnight. They didn't think we'd come back, but I'd made a promise that we would. We'd been there earlier and had some of the young boys cleaning off a roof to protect the places later when it hit. The locals were there, all working to save their homes. When we got back there, the fire was hitting hard and we just kept hitting it with water, and knocking it down.

We tried to save houses. At one stage we told a couple of people they would have to choose which house we would save as we could only save one – they had to choose. That was pretty hard.

Aurora workers were amazing. They cleared the poles from the road and we were able to get fresh fire crews in. We got four crews. I've never been so glad to see fresh crews coming in. They met us and we took them in. We'd been working all day and all night so fresh crews really helped.

The worst flash-over hit us going into Boomer Bay. We went to Boomer to see what we could save there. Going round the top corner into Boomer, the fireball hit. I knew the road so I just kept driving. If we had stopped well… who knows…

I remember thinking then, if a crew from out of the area had been here, they would have been incinerated in the trucks because they wouldn't have known the road. I told my nephew to put his seatbelt on. I thought we might hit a car – we couldn't see. As soon as I said it, we met a car coming at us on the corner. We missed the car by centimetres.It was so hot. When the flash hit us, it was just so hot. We could feel it in the truck. The heat was coming in through the passenger side. It was a wall of flame and smoke as we came round the corner. Heat was coming in through the windscreen but I just kept driving. I knew the road so I kept driving.

We were lucky, we got through. The flashover heated the water in the back of the truck so it was boiling hot. The suction hoses we were carrying had melted flat. A bottle of water on the dashboard had melted, flat, the air all sucked out. We were lucky to get through that one.

It was so hard. My feet were all blistered, my right foot was pretty bad.

At one stage I was sweating so much that it was like someone had turned a hose over my head and water was just running off it. There were other times when I don't remember sweating at all – that's a really bad sign.

I remember taking my pulse and wondering how fast it could get before my heart stopped beating. It was fair racing – probably doing 180 beats a minute I reckon. I didn't think the fire would get me, but I wasn't sure how much my body and organs would take before they said 'enough I'm done'.

We had no cold water or food. The water we had was hot and was giving us a gut ache. I managed to get some cold water round 11.00pm from the pub. The bunch of bananas I'd grabbed from home earlier was pretty handy, that kept us going.

We got to the pub pretty late and we were offered a stainless steel container full of food. I went to shine my torch on it but they said 'no don't do that, just eat it'. It was fish and chips and fried stuff, but it was the best food I'd ever eaten.

When I got back home I looked out the window from my place and I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. House after house was gone, burnt. I just could not believe what I was seeing.

I found it hard to look people in the eyes after the fire. I hadn't been able to save their homes. Volunteers and career fighters alike – we did the best that we could.

An excerpt from writings by Carolyn Daly