Australian couple returns 'home' to find smoking ruin where their house once stood

National and World News

(CNN) — Field after field of charred trees line a dirt road leading deep into the Australian bush, west of the coastal New South Wales town of Eden.

For days, access to this area has been restricted by authorities who manned roadblocks that fire chiefs warned were too dangerous to cross.

Bushfires have raged across several Australian states for months, but high temperatures and strong winds have pushed the danger level to “severe” in the past week.

Huge blazes have edged closer to towns, national parks and the pockets of dense bushland that people had cleared for their homes.

In the tiny community of Pericoe, Bruce Honeyman and Julie-Ann Grima left their home of 10 years on New Year’s Eve, when the sky started to glow a deep red.

On the patio table, they left a handwritten note for firefighters: “Evacuated to Eden.”

For days, they watched the news, weather reports and fire service updates. The flames that had consumed millions of hectares of Australian bush at the start of what has been a horrendous fire season were heading their way.

Monday was the first chance they had to see what had become of their home.

Taking a back route to evade the roadblocks, they had to steer around fallen trees that blocked the track, some still smoldering from the flames that engulfed them less than 48 hours before.

The couple realized their home was gone before they saw the ruins of the building.

Firefighters led the way. They’d been on the road outside, clearing blackened trees and looking for damaged property, putting out spot fires along the way.

“I get a lump in my throat sometimes seeing people … who come and have to confront this. It makes me think of how I would feel if it was me,” Bradley Clint, the senior deputy captain of the Rural Fire Service at Rockey Hall brigade, told CNN.

Up a steep, potholed dirt track, the mud-brick structure was still standing, but the intense heat had smashed the kitchen windows and the sheet metal roof that covered the back of the house lay buckled in the ash.

The couple stared at the scene in silence as flames flickered within a supporting beam.

“I had a reasonable idea this was going to be the outcome,” Honeyman said, as he steeled himself against tears. “The ferocity of this sort of fire is unbelievable. We made the right decision to evacuate. For that I’m thankful,” he said, turning to hug Grima.

The couple’s house may have been destroyed, but not all of their property was gone.

A hammock hung in a nearby tree — untouched.

A timber deck they’d constructed together before Christmas — pristine.

This fire destroyed everything in its path — but its path was jagged, indiscriminate and brutal.

Their boat had melted, spilling lead along the ground.

But their woodpile was intact and the clothesline in the garden stood green and tall.

“We’ve just been unlucky,” Honeyman said.

As the couple surveyed the damage, their neighbor Tracey Wilson wandered up the driveway.

“Oh my God,” she said. “I used to rent this house, before they did it up.”

“This breaks my heart to see this like this. I’ve got a feeling of guilt because my house is still there.”

Around 1,500 homes have been lost across Australia during what has become the worst bushfire season on record.

Rain fell on Monday, but it wasn’t enough to put out the flames.

Firefighters say they need weeks of downpours to nourish ground left parched by years of drought.

“Twelve months ago this whole valley was green,” Grima said. “That’s how dry it’s been.”

The couple is taking time to think about what they do next.

“This is the risk you have when you’re in the bush. This is Australia,” Grima said.

“We’ve got more things than what some people have — we’ve got to be thankful for that.”

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