Ken Stewart, the seventy-nine-year-old, was set to keep his home as the wildfire streamed in the eastern Australian forest.
Like many thousands of Australians during the nation’s unprecedented fire crisis, Stewart was faced with the agonizing choice of fleeing oncoming blazes or risking his life trying to protect his house.
The wild fires resulted in killing 28 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes as they have scorched an area roughly the size of Portugal over the past five months.
Nevertheless, Stewart decided to take his chances against all odds. He turned on a sprinkler system connected to his water tanks, set up a hose aimed at the roof of his house and waited for the blazes to arrive.
“I could hear the fire approaching, I could hear the roar, not just one freight train but a whole fleet of freight trains,” Stewart reported.
But then a “wall of fire” followed the noise, and it was suddenly 100 metres (330 feet) away.
“It wasn’t red or orange, it was white. White hot. And it was coming towards me with a 60, 70-kilometre (per hour) wind behind it,” Stewart said.
Finally, Stewart decided to save himself and join his wife who had left their home well ahead of the blaze.
As he got in his car, the flames were already ahead of him and trees were burning on both sides of the driveway.
Driving into the tunnel of flames, Stewart saw a tree reaching over the driveway, hanging above the ground across a half-torn power line.
“I just ducked, shut my eyes and drove,” Stewart said. “I just got under it.”
Stewart emerged out of the tunnel to reach the main road, and drove to safety at a coastal town.
His joy at reuniting with his wife was crippled by the devastating feeling he had once he got back and saw his destroyed property.
“You know how we depict hell as all fire and all the rest of it,” he said, recounting his ordeal while standing among the ashes of his home.
“Well I estimate that I’ve been to hell. So when I fall off the perch, I won’t be going to hell because they’ve rejected me and said: ‘You’re not wanted here, you’re not suitable, buzz off.'”
Another horrific experience lived no far than 10 kilometres (six miles) down the road, Nicholas Carlile, an ornithologist, who sent his family to safety and armed himself with a spray backpack that he planned to continually fill with water from a small tank.
In the few days leading up to the fire’s arrival, Carlile felt a sense of doom that his home and the birds in the trees he loved would soon be incinerated.
“So I got up early just so I could still enjoy it. I thought that was going to be the end,” Carlile said, his voice cracking as he stood among charred trees.
Carlile, 56, said he spent two days walking through the forest surrounding his house spraying water onto hot spots.
“Every time it started arcing up in here, I’d go in there with my pressure pack and say: ‘You’re not having this bloody tree’, and I’d put the bastard out,” he said.
“It was ridiculous. It was tree by tree and I was here by myself. I hadn’t seen anyone for two days.”
Carlile’s battle had the opposite outcome to Stewart’s, with his home surviving.
“As it turned out the blue gums are flowering at the moment, and we’ve got heaps of birds. So we’re so blessed, you know, very lucky.”