“I knew people were dying around us, I knew,” said Annette Smit, describing the firestorm in Australia that destroyed her home and almost cost her life.
“It rained [fire], it was like lava,” she told the Herald Sun online in one of the compelling stories of survival that have transfixed Australians. “You couldn’t see where you were going, the only thing you could see was the road.”
A resident in one of the worst-hit towns, Victoria state’s Kinglake West, Smit and her partner were preparing to flee in their car when the vehicle exploded in the inferno’s intense heat. She said they had no option but to shelter with terrified neighbors as the flames bore down on them.
“We broke a window and got in under the house,” she said. “About 10 of us proceeded to save the house so that we could survive ... survival just kicks in.”
Peter Trapp from nearby Lower Plenty, who had sent his wife and child to safety, ran to his neighbor’s house after failing to save his own home from the flames.
“When I was running it radiated heat, I could feel my skin burning,” the 41-year-old told the Daily Telegraph. “But you know how you don’t think clearly about things? “I’m on fire and I’m going ‘oh no, I’m going to have all these scars.’ I wasn’t thinking about survival.”
Trapp and his family made it through their ordeal, although their home was razed.
Ian Creek told Melbourne’s Age newspaper how his parents-in-law, Faye and Bill Walker, perished along with their wheelchair-bound son Geoffrey as they prepared to flee their Narbethong home.
“The last contact we had with them was 6:30 on Saturday afternoon,” Creek said. “They said ‘we’ve got to go, there’s black smoke over the back of the shed.’ The neighbors had rung them at 5:30 saying to get out and they didn’t go.”
They nearly made it. Creek said the key was in the car’s ignition and the family dog was in the backseat when the flames engulfed them.
There were rare stories of joy too. Bill and Sherrill Carta were reunited in the emergency ward of Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital after becoming separated fleeing the Kinglake blaze and fearing each other had died.
“It was a fantastic moment, it was the best moment,” Sherrill Carta told Australian Associated Press. “I grabbed him by his big toe because it looked like the only place he wasn’t burned at the time.”