It’s seared into their minds. Unforgettable. The day fire ripped through Michael and Senga Green’s property in the Blue Mountains devouring everything except a 50-year-old caravan, used for storage.
“The 21st of December,” says Senga. “And that was a Saturday.”
“4.21,” adds husband Michael, who laughs wryly as he remembers his first thoughts on seeing the devastation for the first time: “The first thing I thought, honestly, it’s a stupid thing. Where am I going to have a poo? Where am I going to have a shower? Honestly. Then numbness. Yea. Just numbness.”
Michael and Senga are sitting with close friend and neighbour David Wilpour, on plastic chairs beside the resilient old caravan, watching the Habitat for Humanity Australia volunteers build a small ablution block. It is an important tangible step towards them moving back onto their property.
Once the block is completed, they will bring over another, larger caravan and be able to move back onto the land for the first time in more than six months, able to live there until their new home is erected, towards the end of the year.
“It’s a modular building, finished more to project home standard,” says Senga, enthusiastically. “It’s got a really good quality finish.”
“BAL rated,” adds Michael. Bushfire Attack Level.
Senga, Michael and David, had been watching for more than six weeks as the fire made its devastating march towards Dargan. They’d already made the decision to stay and fight. Like they’d done in other bushfires.
They were well prepared: “All the back burning had been done,” says Michael. “Dave had been around a few times in the days before with his tractor and did a nice big clear all cleared around the house. And all the gutters had been cleared. It was beautiful. All good to go…”
“… And it didn’t make one blind bit of difference,” says Senga.
Eventually Senga and Dave retreated to David’s house along with their two rescue greyhounds, Bobby and Tommy, and Mr Whiskers, the ragdoll cat. Michael, who’d been out with the Rural Fire Service, returned shortly after. “Dave was our escape plan,” says Michael, reaching out to tap David gently on the shoulder, his voice breaking with emotion.
“In about 15-20 minutes the house, everything, was just gone,” says Senga.
It’s been a tough six months for the couple who had been in their house for 23 years. They are both retired although Michael who was a sign-writer, and still continues though more as a hobby. First the fires, then COVID-19. Their daughter and two sons, along with their grandchildren, are stuck in the UK, unable to travel because of COVID-19. “We watch how terrible it is over there and we really worry about them,” says Senga. “And we haven’t been able to hug each other.
“You go through this period of being very emotional, depressed, and gutted,” says Michael.
“It seems sometimes its never-ending. But the help has been amazing. I know they don’t like to be called charities; they’d just say, ‘we’re always here to help’. And they were. Everyone has been wonderful.”
Habitat for Humanity Australia are partnering with Gateway, its teams of volunteers helping clear and repair properties in an on-going programme across the Blue Mountains.