Driving towards Milton from Yatte Yattah on that fateful day last August, motorists were met with an apocalyptic sight. A howling nor'westerly wind was tossing debris all over the highway and a huge smoke plume was rising menacingly over the hills, blotting out the sky.
An out-of-control bushfire - dubbed the Kingiman fire - was bearing down on Burrill Lake and an emergency warning had been declared.
To make matters even more perilous, another blaze flared up west of Bomaderry and was bearing down on properties that straddle the highway.
The fierce August winds to which we are so accustomed, heralding the departure of winter, brought with them an unexpected and unseasonal danger: fire.
In Bomaderry, residents and businesses were evacuated. Quick work by the Rural Fire Service, NSW Fire & Rescue and water bombing aircraft brought the blaze under control. Miraculously, no one was injured and there was no significant loss of property. But it was an incredibly close call.
In the southern Shoalhaven, the news grew grimmer by the hour. The wind was so intense, it pushed the smoke column almost parallel to the ground. Not only was visibility hampered but locating the fire front became extremely difficult as well.
The command post at the Milton RFS shed directed operations, which involved brigades from far and wide. Firefighting helicopters operated out of Milton Showground.
For the three days, the best of community spirit was on display. Firefighters, exhausted and covered in soot, rotated in and out of the fireground. Keeping them fed and watered were the other RFS volunteers. Even schoolchildren lent a hand, turning up en masse on the Friday with goodies they had baked the night before.
Just as the upper hand was being gained, tragedy struck. Chopper pilot Alan Tull was killed when his aircraft crashed while water bombing. He died protecting property on behalf of people he did not know in a place he did not call home.
His death hit the local community hard and the aviation community even harder.
And the fire - so severe despite it being winter - taught us all a hard lesson. As predicted so often for so long, the bushfire season had leapt from its normal seasonal containment lines of spring and summer. The Kingiman fire showed there was no room for complacency whatever the season.