3 February, 2020

Tammy and Brett Jee live in the country town of Wandella, just outside Cobargo. On 31 December 2019, they were woken in the middle of the night from a phone call. It was their son, who was out battling the bushfires with the Rural Fire Service. “You need to leave,” he said. And so, with barely any warning, they left.

“When we got up, it was actually cold. Then our neighbour turned up and we saw the glow coming over the hill. The temperature instantly got hotter,” Tammy recalls. “By 1.30am we were gone. We called the rest of our family to make sure they were safe, before arriving in town at 2am. Straight away we were fighting spot fires as fireballs dropped from the sky.”

“For the next 12 hours we fought the fire on all four sides to keep the house in town safe.”

When they returned to their home, they were shocked to find it had burned to the ground.

“Our trees are probably 150-200 metres from our house,” Tammy says. “We had no grass because we’re in drought. So we just thought that once it came over the mountain it would just fade out. But it just came down like fireballs. And we lost everything.”

The couple picked their way through the rubble of what had been their home. What they had assumed was bare ground with no fuel for a fire had turned into what authorities were dubbing a firestorm. The blaze had burned so fiercely and with such intensity that it created its own weather conditions. By the time it reached Tammy’s parent’s place on the neighbouring property, the fire had intensified so much that it chewed up the house and spat it out.

“(It) blew parts of the house for hundreds of metres,” says Tammy. “There were whole cars that were blown nearly 600 metres from the house and ripped into pieces.”

“(It’s like) nothing that we’ve seen,” Brett says.

With so many family members experiencing a similar pain of losing everything, they’re banding together to make it through this difficult time and choosing to find the positives in a bleak situation.

“Six members of our family lost their homes and properties,” Tammy says. “But we’re all still alive.”

The bushfires dealt a staggering blow to Tammy, Brett, and their family. But almost immediately, help started flooding in.

“Support was coming through in forms of money or in forms of fuel or food,” says Tammy. And for Tammy’s father who is on dialysis, Bega Hospital made arrangements for him to stay.

“The support from ADRA has been great,” Tammy says. With the immediate cash grant from ADRA Tammy was able to purchase fuel for their generator, ensuring they didn’t lose the scarce, basic food items they could source. It also meant they could fill their cars with fuel and return to their property in order to keep the stock they had left alive.

“The support and the help has been muchly appreciated and very much needed. Thank you.”

The support that Tammy and Brett received is one example of the many ways that ADRA has been able to respond to the bushfires plaguing Australia. Saturday February 15 is ADRA’s Disaster, Famine and Relief Offering. The money from this Offering ensures that ADRA can stay ready to help people in times of disasters both in Australia and overseas. Visit adra.org.au/respond for more information about this important Offering.

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