'She was terrified': six-year-old watches on as dad saves South Coast home
Jan. 14, 2020
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Four years ago a veteran firefighter raised concerns the public land bordering his South Coast home was littered with flammable material. But Mike Atkin's fears were dismissed.
Having served 17 years with ACT Fire and Rescue he also knew the low moisture content in the region this summer posed a serious fire risk.
On the morning of December 31, Mr Atkin's concerns were realised when Surf Beach lost power. Within hours the township was alight.
When Batemans Bay erupted in flames Mr Atkin was home with his partner Nicole and their two young daughters.
The couple had a fire plan and had cleared their property from all leaf litter. They remained “worried” for their home as it bordered the “uncleared” council land.
Mr Atkin had lodged a bushfire hazard complaint about the public land at George Bass Drive on January 13, 2016. He received a response from Eurobodalla Fire Control Centre District in February 2016 saying “the land does not represent a significant bushfire threat at this time” and “the (rural fire) service does not intend to take further action at this stage”.
He recalls the New Year's Eve fire "roaring" as it tore through that land.
He believes if the area had been attended to in the months leading up to December the fire risk would have been mitigated. In the days leading up to December 31 Mr Atkin estimates there was leaf litter piled high that had dropped from council trees onto the fence line he shared with the property next door.
His family watched from their house as he and his neighbour tried to battle the fire with two garden hoses and a couple of buckets of water.
“I knew in my heart this would not be enough to protect our home” he said.
In what felt like “seconds” his neighbours backyard was engulfed and his own fence was alight.
It was then that Mr Atkin told his family to evacuate through the front of their home. He was going to stay behind and fight.
At this “critical” moment the Rural Fire Service arrived.
Mr Atkin remembers feeling “instant relief”. His six-year-old daughter Mia was watching by a window at the rear of their home. Her hands were pressed up against the glass and she had tears streaming down her face.
“She was absolutely terrified. It’s a moment that’s stuck with me,” he said.
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He knew that with the help of the RFS they had a much better chance of regaining control.
“I splashed a fire hose over the window where Mia was watching and gave her a big thumbs up,” Mr Atkin said.
Together Mr Atkin, his neighbour and the RFS knocked down the main fire front. Without the RFS “the fire would have taken three properties including mine”, he said.
“Our house is standing and we’re all still breathing so I just feel lucky,” he said.
The Eurobodalla Shire Council chose not to comment.
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