Residents share tales of the Green Wattle Creek fire

To stay and defend or leave while you can: it's the question many have asked themselves during the bushfire crisis.

For a small, close-knit group of neighbours in Wombeyan Caves, the decision was to stay when the Green Wattle Creek fire reached the area before the New Year.

The shed at Kevin Flemming's Wombeyan home is destroyed in the Green Wattle Creek fire. Photo: Hannah Sparks

The shed at Kevin Flemming's Wombeyan home is destroyed in the Green Wattle Creek fire. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Not everyone was lucky enough to save everything, but these neighbours still have their homes and all survived to tell the tale.

Upper Lachlan Citizen of the Year 2012, Ken Fleming lost his shearing shed and all its contents, including shearing plant, old oregon timber bought when the Royal Hotel closed in Goulburn, and home wares his daughter was storing while renovating.

A lot of fencing was also lost to the blaze that flared up in pine trees around the property.

Mr Fleming, a member of the NSW Rural Fire Service over 60 years and retired Wombeyan Caves guide, said he was extremely grateful for the work done by the firefighters over weeks to protect the Wombeyan Caves area he is so fond of.

Mr Fleming's family has lived in the area since the 1800s and the house on his property had stood since about 1930.

It was built to replace another house that had burnt down, Mr Fleming said. Fortunately, this time, the house was saved.

And there are more stories just like this. Wombeyan Caves Road resident of 49 years and former Taralga Rural Fire Brigade captain Michael Chalker had never seen a fire get so close to his property.

He and wife Annette decided to stay and saved their house and three sheds as dense bush burnt around them.

Mick and Annette Chalker's Wombeyan Caves sheds still standing after the Green Wattle Creek fire burnt around them. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Mick and Annette Chalker's Wombeyan Caves sheds still standing after the Green Wattle Creek fire burnt around them. Photo: Hannah Sparks

The Wombeyan Caves campground and infrastructure, just metres ahead of the Chalkers' house, were also been spared.

"It never crossed my mind to leave. We waited for it to come along and helped others to save their properties. That's what you do in the bush," Mr Chalker said.

His family has lived in Wombeyan for many years and his father believed the fires would never get into the caves.

"The only fires we've seen here before now are ones started in the campground," Mr Chalker said.

Mick Chalker stands in the garden at his Wombeyan Caves home of 49 years, spared from the fires, with dog Boof and Taralga Rural Fire Brigade Captain John Sullivan. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Mick Chalker stands in the garden at his Wombeyan Caves home of 49 years, spared from the fires, with dog Boof and Taralga Rural Fire Brigade Captain John Sullivan. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Taralga Rural Fire Brigade member Jeff Chalker has been a volunteer firefighter for 40 years and has also never seen the bush burn as it has. He put it down to everything being so dry.

Mr Chalker managed Wombeyan Caves from 1981 to 2008 and believed the fire would impact tourism for the next few months.

"Because the place isn't as attractive as it normally would be, but tourism is impacted everywhere," he said.

Even once the fire is over, firefighters predict Wombeyan Caves Road - the main road into the caves from Taralga - will be impacted by loose rocks and trees for months.

Former Taralga Rural Fire Brigade Captain Mick Chalker's uniform hangs on the line at his Wombeyan Caves home after fighting the fires consistently for two weeks. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Former Taralga Rural Fire Brigade Captain Mick Chalker's uniform hangs on the line at his Wombeyan Caves home after fighting the fires consistently for two weeks. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Up the hill from the Chalkers is Taralga Rural Fire Brigade deputy Peter Davies, who also stayed to protect his property.

With the help of his daughter and son-in-law, they saved the house, but lost all the fencing keeping in 100 head of cattle and there was some damage to the cattle yards.

The cattle are now roaming, although Mr Davies has been able to keep them close to his house by putting out hay.

What little grass remained for the cows from the drought was now burnt and Mr Davies estimated at least 200,000 litres of water from his dams was used by the firefighters.

He is relying on the Department of Primary Industries for help but said they had been slow to reply and offered just four bales of hay, so far.

"I lodged my application last week and I still don't have fodder and water," he said.

ABC journalist Richard Glover with wife Debra Oswald (right) sit on a thrown out couch that has provided firefighters with relief in front of their Tallygang Mountain Road weekender. Pictured with Taralga Rural Fire Brigade Captain John Sullivan and member Peter Davies. Photo: Hannah Sparks

ABC journalist Richard Glover with wife Debra Oswald (right) sit on a thrown out couch that has provided firefighters with relief in front of their Tallygang Mountain Road weekender. Pictured with Taralga Rural Fire Brigade Captain John Sullivan and member Peter Davies. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Opposite Mr Davies is a mud-brick house built and used as a weekender by ABC journalist Richard Glover and wife Debra Oswald.

Mr Glover was in his Sydney studio when another neighbour sent a text to say a firestorm had passed through the area.

The neighbour, Simon Chalker, and others protected Mr Glover and Mrs Oswald's house, which they built in their 20s with friends.

They lost a shed next to the house that was made from 1920s timber and wallpapered with 1940s copies of the Goulburn Post.

The fire also destroyed their caravan and the top of their septic tank, but Mr Glover said they were lucky.

"We thought we were gone," Mr Glover said.

The forest around them is severely burnt and all of the neighbours are worried about the wildlife.

"We can see through the forest now. We've sat on the veranda for 35 years and we hardly recognise what we're looking at now. It's very sad," Ms Oswald said.

Mr Glover described the familiar sound of wind whistling through the trees as something more reminiscent of Japanese paper chimes with burnt leaves like paper.

Mr Davies said he saw frightened kangaroos and wallabies run into the flames and those that survived are now short of food.

The Chalkers have been leaving food and water for the birds and keeping an eye out for a family of magpies and king parrots that used to frequent their garden.

They also know of a dozer driver who was nursing a rescued king parrot found in a bucket and planned to return it to their garden once it had recovered.

"We have to look out for our wildlife," Mr Chalker said.

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