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Hope rises from ashes

17 October 2014

Hope rises from ashes

As Peter More walked down his street his heart flickered with hope.

He noticed that along Emma Parade in Winmalee, only the houses on the right were burnt down. His house was on the left.

As he reached the crest of his driveway, where he could normally see his rooftop, there was nothing.

“All that was left of the house was the brickwork for the foundations of the house,” Peter recalls. “I felt curiously detached as I watched the smouldering ruin before me, but I do remember how difficult it was ringing my children, (Avril and Ashley), to say ‘we’ve lost the house’.”

The final moment of destruction came in those five minutes Peter stood there. He watched the crown of the large eucalypt tree fall into the pool below the house.

“I practically built that house over the 19 years we lived there. Every school holiday and over most weekends, there always seemed to be some necessary project to ‘improve’ and extend our home. Overall, I felt a great sense of satisfaction providing such a lovely place for us all to live.”

On Thursday 17 October, Peter’s family was one of many who lost their home from the bushfires that ravaged the Blue Mountains region.

His was also one of the first families to come across Salvation Army officers and Senior Chaplains for the NSW Rural Fire Service, Majors Ian and Kerry Spall.

That Thursday, the Spalls drove towards the Winmalee Rural Fire Service station to support the firefighters. Here they first met Peter’s 15-year-old son Ashley, who has been a cadet volunteer with the Rural Fire Service for almost two years.

As soon as the fires broke out, Ashley left his school grounds at Winmalee High and headed off to the Winmalee Rural Fire Service station, ready to support the fire crews. His job was to man the radio and communication systems which involved getting the fire trucks on the road.

Knowing his own home was in danger, Ashley continued with the job at hand. “When I’m working, I can only focus on what has to be done. It helped me to keep my mind off the possibilities,” he said.

Ashley then received the terrible phone call from his father and knew life could never be the same again. An older crew member went to pick up Ashley’s mother, Yvonne, and two other siblings, Bernice and Quentin, still waiting for news a few blocks from the house. It was at the fire station they heard the awful truth about their home. Ready to comfort and support them at this crucial time was the Spalls. Within a short time, Peter rejoined his family, and met the Spalls.

“We were so thankful for Ian and Kerry at that moment,” Peter said. “Whilst there were other people around, we felt so lonely and desolate. All of us needed a lot of comfort, and Ian and Kerry provided just that for us.”

Due to the bushfires, the roads in Winmalee were blocked off and many residents were stuck in their cars for up to seven hours. Having organised temporary accommodation with friends in Springwood, the Spalls helped escort the More family out of Winmalee.

“We felt so crushed and so desolate and to know that we were in Ian and Kerry’s hands at that time was very important,” says Peter.

Since that day, the More family and the Spalls have kept in contact and built a long-lasting friendship despite the unusual circumstances.

“Sometimes it’s like that, keeping that continuous support and care. But it was part of our strategy in the long term. Peter we’re not abandoning you. Part of our head space was we wanted to support Ash but in that primary focus there was a whole family,” says Major Ian to the More family.

Peter continues: “Life is interesting. We lost a house and that’s terrible but there’s an excitement for making new friends even when that wasn’t your intention or expectation. We’ve kept in contact since that time and trust this will continue into the future now as well.”

The More family's restoration story is a result of the Blue Mountains community as a whole. Along with assistance from the Spalls, the More family was taken aback by the generous donations they received.

While staying at their friend’s house in Springwood, someone dropped off a carload of clothes. Possessions that were lost in the fire were replaced almost immediately.

Bernice was delighted to be given an exquisite formal dress by an ex-student from Winmalee High. Quentin arrived at his school, Penrith Christian School, to be presented with a new watch by his teacher. One of Avril’s lecturers at UWS Campbelltown offered her an iPad he no longer needed. Even their little dog, Lola, rescued from the house as Yvonne fled the flames, has been given new bowls, and toys to amuse her.

Temporarily settled at their rental property in Mount Riverview, in the lower Blue Mountains, the More family is making plans for the future.

Photo credit: Shairon Paterson

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