Scorched trees fell in the distance as Barrie Curtis began the long clean-up at his Bawley Point home on Friday after fire tore into the town. Charred bushland surrounding the house showed how close it came to destruction.
Firefighters feared the house would burn as the blaze pushed into Bawley Point on a strong northwesterly wind early on Thursday afternoon and surrounded the property.
Despite the fire advancing on the town and reaching one of its main streets, Mr Curtis' home defied expectations and remained standing.
He'd had hip replacement surgery only three weeks before he fought to protect his property on Thursday.
"You just got to do what you got to do. I knew I was going to be slow, but being slow was good because I couldn't race around, and quite often when you race around you can stir the next person up," he said.
Firefighters held the fire back as it raced up the gully behind the house.
"The flames started down there and came over the top of the house. And then we got the ember attack," Mr Curtis said.
A glamping tent on the neighbouring property went up in fire and two gas cylinders began shooting flames there as they vented their gas.
Fire started on a corner of Mr Curtis' roof before he extinguished it and other blazes shot up in the yard.
Mr Curtis, who works for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, had enough experience fighting bushfire to stay calm even as flames roared metres from his house. Firefighters kept cool heads too.
"The guys that worked here, they were all very calm, and once it was all over, they unhooked their stuff and shot off down to the next one," he said.
It wasn't until 5.30pm that Mr Curtis knew he was in the clear.
"The luckiest thing we had yesterday was the power stayed on," he said.
It let the water keep running from his house's pump as flames neared.
"Power staying on was a God-send, there was a lot of things there that was pure luck."
A late afternoon southerly change stopped the fire from pressing further into Bawley Point. By the time the change arrived, the blaze had passed Mr Curtis' house but smoke hung thick in the air.
"The beauty of the southerly change was we could breathe," Mr Curtis said.
He'd had an escape vehicle ready to go, keys in the ignition, if his house became a lost cause.
His years of firefighting experience didn't stop the emotional pull he felt while defending his home of 25 years.
"It's an emotional rollercoaster. You know you're trained to do the job, but it's your house, so it's different," Mr Curtis said.
"I tried at the time to cut it off. It's just a house, it's just stuff. At the end of the day, it's not worth a life.
"It was always at the back of my mind, if this catches hold, just get out of here."
A relieved Bawley Point Bushfire Brigade captain Charlie Magnuson said fire could have destroyed up to a third of the town if not for the late southerly change.
Instead, Bawley Point lost no homes and no lives despite the fire's advance to Marramarang Road, its road to neighbouring Kioloa.
"That wind came just in time," he said. "We're elated. The whole brigade is elated."
Fire burnt much of the bushfire fuel around the town, lowering the risk for the rest of the summer.
About half the town's residents evacuated their homes by the peak of the threat on Thursday, he said.
Eighty firefighters, from the NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Fire and Rescue and Victorian brigades, protected homes around town as two helicopters water bombed the blaze.
Mr Magnuson was grateful for the help from other brigades.
The southerly wind created havoc for Lake Tabourie, further north of Bawley Point, on Thursday afternoon.
Fire that had moved west into Meroo National Park turned and raced to the edge of town, destroying back fences of some properties.
Lake Tabourie resident Vern Jackson stayed behind to defend his home of 20 years, hosing down the house, running sprinklers on the roof, and filling gutters with water.
Fire ran up to land behind his house "like a hurricane", hitting trees near his block, he said.
"It just looked like a ball of fire."
He extinguished a spot fire that started on his neighbour's property when firefighters arrived.