THE MANAGEMENT and staff of Sussex Inlet clubs opened their doors to both visitors and locals seeking refuge from the Deans Gap fire on Tuesday.
One of the biggest evacuation centres was at Sussex Inlet RSL Club where general manager Craig Smith estimates his club hosted around 1000 people, many of them with their pets in tow.
The club provided 1500 jugs of cold water, 500 jugs of soft drink and 943 meals free of charge to evacuees and the many firefighters in the town.
The trickle of people that started to come in shortly after lunch turned into a flood.
In what Mr Smith described as an “interesting night”, the gathering crowd included about 40 dogs, seven budgies and a woman in labour.
The woman was successfully evacuated under emergency escort to Shoalhaven Hospital during the evening.
Mr Smith said barking, badly behaved dogs were dispatched outside to be looked after by rangers, while the well behaved dogs were allowed to stay with their owners.
Alcohol and gaming services were suspended at the RSL as well as at the Sussex Bowling Club.
“It was not appropriate for us to be serving alcohol with families with children and elderly people here,” Mr Smith said.
“In these cases we cease to be a club, and become a ‘place of last resort’.”
Mr Smith said the evacuees also included 100 people from the Inasmuch retirement village along with their carers.
“It was a long night, with people coming and going, and the situation kept changing,” he said.
“Many of the people were either visitors or elderly locals.”
While some people were able to go home about 1am, residents north of the Ocean and Earth factory were advised to stay.
“Others just preferred to stay to feel save, particularly older people. The girls from Community Services must get a mention – they were wonderful,” he said.
Mr Smith himself went home at 2am and was back at 6am.
He is now experiencing the frustrations of many with the Princes Highway opening and closing at short notice.
“We are low on milk and we are waiting for deliveries of plastic cups and other supplies.”
He is anxious to restock, knowing that the club could be called on again.
Over at the smaller evacuation centre at Sussex Inlet Bowling Club staff member Sheree Hallenan said the club provided a calm and quiet place on an eerie and worrying day.
“Parents were trying to keep their kids calm and get them to sleep,” she said.