A tale of miraculous protection during the devastating 2003 Canberra bushfires.
Extracts from Paula’s story as told to Robyn
… January 18, 2003, was a sweltering Saturday with scorching winds battering the bush and stirring up the dust, which lodged like grit in our eyes. It felt like all the moisture was being sucked out of our bodies. The searing winds had dried off all the undergrowth until it crackled under our feet as we walked through the bush. On that day 96 fire-fighters from the previous night shift were asleep at Greenhills. Early in the afternoon we were told that the fire was changing direction to the north-west and was now coming more toward us.
We alerted the sleeping fire-fighters and watched in trepidation as the flames plunged over the mountains in the distance and roared down the Brindabellas.
Without really thinking about it I decided to make a last-minute dash in the car down the road to our home to collect our little dog. I rushed into the house and had just gathered up Missy in my arms and taken our two Bibles off the table when suddenly the CB radio crackled into life and I heard Ed’s voice, full of tension, calling out to me with great urgency, “Paula. Look behind you up the hill. Grab the dog and get out of there NOW!”
When I looked up I saw the fire had converged with one from the other direction and a wall of fire was roaring over the hills towards Greenhills at incredible speed. It was a terrifying sight and the noise was horrendous. I only had minutes to make my escape. There was no time to gather up photos or precious possessions. As I ran from the house I simply cried out in all sincerity, “Jesus, this is your house and all that is in it is yours. You can have it if you want it, but I’m asking you to look after it for us.” Then I drove back up the hill to the Centre, with my foot flat to the floor on the accelerator.
… The fire came up the valley and over the hill and raged over the building where we sheltered. We sat pressed up against the back wall of the downstairs room, swaddled in wet towels and breathing through wet tea-towels. The noise was deafening, as if hundreds of trains were roaring overhead. It felt like we were about to be incinerated in a giant furnace, such was the ferocity and heat of this fire. Our hearts were pounding as we prayed and asked God for His protection. Could He save us from what seemed to be certain destruction?
… When the worst of the fire storm had passed over us the air in the auditorium had become so thick with smoke and debris we couldn’t stay there any longer and moved upstairs to the dining area. Incredibly, the building was intact. The body of the fire had roared up the valley then, miraculously, jumped right over the top of the whole Murrumbidgee Centre, including the accommodation blocks on the hill beside us.
… Unbeknown to us a few of the fire-fighters, without any thought for their own personal danger, had stood together in the upstairs dining area holding trestle tables pressed up against the glass windows all along the front of the building. Their fear was that if one of the windows exploded there would be no way of saving the building or the people it sheltered.
We stood and looked out into the pitch darkness. The air was filled with thick smoke. We couldn’t see how much damage had been done or what buildings were left of the old Cotter Centre down the hill from us. Suddenly the vacuum created by the intensity of the fire as it passed over us seemed to suck the flames back and ignite a second wave of burning. It was as if the fire came back to finish the job it had started. We stood in shock and watched as the old buildings down the hill below us caught fire and lit up the sky. Dorms and halls were consumed by flames ignited by the sparks and embers. The buildings were flattened by exploding gas bottles. Flames launched like spitfires into the black sky while we stood watching with horror. One building after another succumbed to nature’s destructive power.
Later that evening the fire-fighters drove the fire truck up to inspect the damage and then continued to put out smouldering wreckage for hours. When they returned the driver had a stunned look on his face. He gave us the thumbs-up sign and told us that incredibly, against all odds, our house was still standing. The fire had burnt the brush fence right to the edge of the house. My hanging pot plants on the front veranda had melted and were hanging down like stalactites. All around it was burnt, but the house was intact. We were stunned and just looked at each other in amazement.
To read more of this amazing story, and other unique stories that will captivate your heart, see my book, Inspiring Stories of Life and Faith. Details at: www.inspiringstories.net.au