FIRES are tearing through the Macleay and dozens of residents have been forced to take shelter at the Kempsey Showground evacuation centre, with many more expected in the next few hours.
Peter Hillier and Cilla Brooker live at Toorumbee and were evacuated from their homes last week, but they have only recently found shelter at the Kempsey Showgrounds.
"We were evacuated last Friday night, and went to Willawarrin, that lasted about half an hour, the fire closed in on us, then we had to move again," Cilla said.
"I walked out with nothing, most of us didn't even have a change of clothes, just the dogs and the car," Peter said.
Conditions are set to worsen, and with emergency service personnel stretched to breaking point, there are hard and uncertain days ahead. For Peter and Cilla though, they hope that the unique environment where they made their homes will save their properties.
"There is a lot of rainforest, and other types of flora, it's usually very damp; hopefully, the greenery will save us, I think our worst enemy will be the ember drift though," Peter said.
"We won't be able to get back in there and check for a long time."
"I'd say we have lost about one hundred acres up on the mountain at the moment, but there are some blokes from the community up there fighting it, we are calling them the firefighters of Toorumbee," Cilla said.
The evacuation centre in Kempsey has food, clothes and shelter for those in need, but it's the simpler things in life that Cilla is grateful for.
"I had a shower recently, and god it was good, they gave us a lovely baked dinner last night, we can't complain too much," Cilla said.
"All I can say is thank god for the salvos, and the compassionate people in the community, my perception of the Kempsey community has drastically changed after all this, everyone has just been lovely."
"The Lord Mayor Liz Campbell has been here every day, early in the mornings, she has been talking to people listening to peoples stories, you can't fault her," Peter said.
Mayor Liz Campbell, who has been assisting at the evacuation centre operating out of the Kempsey Showground since Saturday said the speed of the community response was incredible.
"In the early hours of Saturday when it became clear that we had lost homes and properties in our Shire we knew there was going to be a huge demand for support," she said.
"Council worked with the other agencies to quickly establish the evacuation centre, in a matter of hours we went from a registration desk at the showground to having to put out a message that we couldn't take any more donations.
"We were inundated with clothes, personal items, food and bedding. Locals have been there around the clock since Saturday supporting each other, giving their time and coordinating the messages to those remaining west of the road closures on Armidale Road."
For many, now that they are relatively safe, a sense of deep sadness and anger are setting in as they try to make sense of the tragedy.
"It's really frustrating to see the news all over the television being predominantly about people in the city complaining about the smoke, we have people in the bush who are losing their homes, they need to wake up to themselves," an unnamed resident said.
"I think this shows us that we need to return to a policy of controlled burning, the fires probably couldn't have been prevented, but the effects of them certainly could have been lessened," Peter said.
Anybody displaced by the fires can go to the Kempsey Showground at 19 Sea St, Kempsey and register to stay at the evacuation centre.
Make sure to keep up to date on the latest fire information with the fires near me app at https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/fires-near-me.
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