A man and his neighbour are being hailed as heroes after they took 14 people and two dogs into a tinny to save them as flames bore down on their homes.
Lake Conjola man Brett Cripps told A Current Affair the fire was on them even as he received a warning text.
“I saw huge flames, they were probably 50 foot high, 60 foot high,” he said.
He saw the danger coming from his boat, and saw also that soon, others were in danger.
Next-door neighbour Peter Connolly, who was also in the boat, said they came across a group of children and their parents who were “oblivious” to the looming threat.
“We started shouting at them, get to the water, get to the water, next thing the flames came around,” he said.
Mr Cripps took them all into his boat – the six-person vessel now holding 14 people and two dogs.
They got away just in time.
“We weren’t away from the pier when the flames were on where they were,” Mr Connolly said.
“The kids were just frantic, but they were so appreciative, the parents, of us.”
The group spent five hours in the boat, watching homes and caravans burn.
“All you could hear was the trees crumbling, popping gas bottles, and the smoke got worse,” Mr Cripps said.
Mr Connolly was particularly anxious – during the chaos, he had been separated from his wife Cathriona.
She went from home to home looking for shelter, finally parking in a burning paddock until the fire front had passed.
For 24 hours the couple searched for each other, fearing the worst, before they were reunited.
“I thought I’d never see him again,” Mrs Connolly said.
Mr Cripps, meanwhile, insists he’s not a hero, saying the label truly belongs to the firefighters and others battling to save people.
He and his family are determined to return to Lake Conjola and rebuild their home.