“It made my blood run cold on a hot day.”
Eighty-three-year-old Des Mowday and other residents of Olympian Parade battled alongside firefighters to defend their houses against a wildfire that burned out more than four hectares near Leura on Monday, one of five in 24 hours that stopped trains and threatened homes around the Upper Mountains.
Des had been working with his wife Shirley, 78, in the garden of their home when he went to put some rubbish in the bin.
“As I walked back I saw this black and grey massive cloud over the home on the lower side. The wind was swirling . . . and I thought the home was alight next door,” he told the Gazette.
“I went to the front to check towards the valley and I could see the flames then.
“I yelled to my son to get the pump working . . . and ran up the steps and rang triple zero.”
Firefighters arrived on the scene within minutes and Des set about operating the hose from water tanks the couple were required to install by Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC) during a renovation more than two years ago.
“We emptied out the tanks . . . But I think the fire brigades and the north-west wind saved our bacon,” he said.
“It surprised me how the fire had such a hold so quickly.
“The flames looked like a furnace, as though you were looking into a huge furnace, as if someone had opened the door.
“I was not that close that I was feeling the extreme heat of it but I could feel the heat, I could see the flames going up high when it got into the gum trees.
“The most frightening moment was when I saw the dark grey black billowing clouds [of smoke] coming up. One moment you are just relaxed and planting dahlia bulbs and then you are suddenly confronted with an impending catastrophe.”
The fire was the most threatening of five that started on Monday, with other incidents recorded at Magdala and Wilson Streets in Katoomba, Tenth Avenue at North Katoomba, and Queens Road, Leura.
The Wilson Street blaze inside the railway corridor caused train services to be temporarily cancelled about 3pm to allow fire crews safe access to the site. The fire was contained by 5pm and services resumed.
The Olympian Parade fire threatened up to 10 homes again yesterday morning (Tuesday), and firefighters battled to protect historic Leuralla and the NSW Toy and Railway Museum. But blustery winds soon pushed the fire over the escarpment where it continued to burn out of control at the time of going to press.
“We did see a threat re-appear to between five and 10 houses on Olympian Parade [on Tuesday] but the threat has passed fairly quickly,” a NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman said.
“The fire is burning fairly slowly through the bottom of the gully off the edge of the escarpment and there is no direct threat to property, but that can change fairly quickly. The fire is not under control.”
There was a “large presence of trucks and crews” in the area yesterday and while some media outlets had reported the fires were deliberately lit, the spokesman said it was too early to tell.
“It’s too early to speculate, our main focus is to extinguish this fire [at Olympian Parade],” he said.
“Once the fire is extinguished there will be investigations by our fire investigators in conjunction with the police.”
The firefighters deserved “the highest of praise” for their actions, Des said.
For regular updates visit the Rural Fire Service’s website at www.rfs.nsw.gov.au, or phone the Blue Mountains Rural Fire Service district office on 4784-7444.