South Coast bushfire survivor from Dubbo wants action taken

FIRING LINE: Nichola Gwon and her son near where firefighters were frantically working to save homes and lives. Image: YOUTUBE
FIRING LINE: Nichola Gwon and her son near where firefighters were frantically working to save homes and lives. Image: YOUTUBE

A former Dubbo resident who was trapped in a South Coast holiday house threatened by bushfires says she's "gobsmacked" more hasn't been done to prepare for more severe natural disasters Australia was warned would occur as a result of climate change.

Nichola Gwon was born and raised in Dubbo but now lives in South Korea with husband Hugh and their two-year-old son Yul. She still has family members in Dubbo and every year they usually spend the Christmas holidays together in Berrara on the South Coast.

On New Year's Eve, the Gwon family were in Berrara while Ms Gwon's parents traveled to another coastal community for an end-of-year party. While they were apart the bushfire threat worsened significantly.

"We had gone to the beach in the morning, we thought everything was okay, nobody seem worried," Ms Gwon said.

"Very quickly, hot winds started and we could see smoke. The sky turned very dark.

"We got the message on our phones saying 'fire is approaching, seek shelter' so we figured the best thing to do was to run down to the beach.

When conditions worsened Ms Gwon said "we realised we were stranded there".

"We didn't have power, internet or phone reception," she said.

"We had no idea where my parents were or what they were doing. We didn't have a car, we didn't have phone reception, we didn't have internet and we had limited food.

"We were trapped, luckily the neighbours were lovely and offered to let us get in the car with them."

Ms Gwon said the family had some suitcases and backpacks ready for if they were forced to flee.

"It suddenly got very, very hot and there were very strong winds," she said. "The trees were blowing and the sky was dark, you could smell the smoke and see the embers and ash in the air.

"All you can sort of do is sort of stand out the front of the house and wait, you're just waiting to see how quickly this is coming towards you."

The family spent two terrifying nights fearing for their lives.

"My husband stayed up just watching because through the bush you could see the orange glow," Ms Gwon said.

"I was waking up every half hour checking, the air was just full of smoke. We would wake up choking on the smoke."

DEVASTATION: The South Coast after the bushfires. IMAGE: YOUTUBE

DEVASTATION: The South Coast after the bushfires. IMAGE: YOUTUBE

Ms Gwon said the family felt "very, very, very lucky" to have survived the ordeal.

"I still can't sleep properly, even though it was only two nights it was just so stressful," she said.

"In the moment we were very calm and logical about it but later you start to feel the mental health effects of it.

"A lot of people went through so much worse than we did. I feel like our experience was minor compared to others but it was still such an impactful experience."

The holiday house the Gwons were trapped in was on the edge of bush land and close to an access point brave firefighters used to get into a national park.

SURVIVORS: Hugh and Nichola Gwon outside federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton's Dubbo office. Photo: AMY McINTYRE

SURVIVORS: Hugh and Nichola Gwon outside federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton's Dubbo office. Photo: AMY McINTYRE

"We were seeing those local volunteer firefighters going in and that was really moving because most of them were over 60 and they had a lack of resources," Ms Gwon told Australian Community Media.

"It was very emotional seeing the lack of resources, knowing that there was massive fire bearing down on us and the firefighters had two trucks.

"They did an amazing job and they managed to save those villages. A week later the fires came up to right where we would have been if we were still there and the volunteers managed to stop them from destroying houses."

After Ms Gwon arrived back in Dubbo she attended a demonstration because she was "gobsmacked" more hadn't been done to ensure firefighters were properly resourced in a period which experts had long warned would see more severe natural disasters occur because of climate change.

"Everything that was predicted would happen is happening and that is terrifying," she said in reference to Professor Ross Garnaut's climate change review conducted 11 years ago.

"It's not something that can be just brushed under the rug.

"Not only is the environment damaged but people's lives are damaged as well. Listen to their stories and understand that action needs to be taken."

This story Stranded survivor recounts terrifying fire ordeal first appeared on Daily Liberal.