Lorena Granados was alerted at 5:30am on New Year’s Eve. The fire was coming.
“We got a call from a girlfriend to say “we’ve just lost my house, I think the fire’s coming to Mogo’,” she said.
The Clyde Mountain fire had made significant ground over the previous night, and was barrelling down on the historic tourist town with infernal fury.
“I was very sure that we were going to have everyone, the army, the helicopters, the fire brigade preparing to save the houses,” Lorena said.
“There was one fire brigade, there was no water, there was no waterbombing, there was nothing.”
Desperate and determined, she and her husband tried in vain to defend their home and the leathergoods business they had spent 17 years establishing at Mogo, just 10 minutes outside of Batemans Bay on the NSW South Coast.
But the fire was determined to ravage the town.
“The fire was ferocious, it was angry,” Lorena said.
“We had three fire hoses going at once. The fire was just throwing the water back on us.
“The wind was that strong that as we were throwing the water it was just coming back with fire.
“It was like a demon attacking us.
They felt like ants as the flames towered above them, and when burning embers began to rain down, Lorena realised “there was no chance of beating this beast”.
“When we evacuated there was falling trees, power lines everywhere, still today they’re burning alight,” she said.
“It was a disaster, I would never wish that upon anyone, to go through what we went through yesterday.”
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‘This is the worst experience of my life’
Straddling the Princes Highway, Mogo is a familiar sight to many on the NSW South Coast.
But Tuesday’s fires have changed its shape forever.
In the Batemans Bay and Mogo areas, estimates suggest hundreds of structures having been lost.
Lorena listed business upon business that has been flattened by the fires, and said several homes, including her own, in the nearby Jeremadra had been reduced to rubble.
“This is the worst experience of my life,” she said.
“I thought we’ll lose the business but we’ll have our home, we never thought that we would go back home and find it a rubble as well.
She said she understood that the Rural Fire Service did its best to fight the fires with the resources it had.
“We just felt so alone,” she said.
“I understand the resources are stretched to the maximum, but I honestly think they should bring the army in, or extra personnel from overseas or something.”
After heading to an evacuation centre, she said her family had time to reflect on the devastation.
But she also saw how spread resources were when lining up for breakfast.
“All they had was white bread and butter,” she said.
But after so long with such stress, bread and butter tasted like a gourmet meal.
While the town burned, staff at the Mogo Zoo remarkably managed to fight off the blaze, and keep animals safe.
As the chaos slowly eased, the full extent of the damage done to the Batemans Bay area dawned on Lorena.
There is no electricity.
You struggle to get a phone signal.
“We are blocked off … still burning and we’re still in a warzone,” Lorena said.
She said she feared supplies were running low amid a tidal wave of evacuees that had come to Batemans Bay.
Now in emergency accommodation paid for by the Government, Lorena and her family are left to reflect on their losses, and to figure out a way forward.
“Like an organ’s been ripped out of our body. That’s what it feels like,” she said.
“It used to be full of artists, artisans … what you find in Mogo, you won’t find anywhere else.”
Now the community is grappling on whether that creative flair could one day emerge from the ashes of the town.