NSW bushfires: Ulladulla locals in boats rescue people trapped by flames
A flotilla of fishing boats has rescued residents trapped in small coastal towns on the NSW south coast under threat from unstoppable bushfires.
Private boat owners ran mercy dashes from Ulladulla to Lake Conjola and Manyana, where they dropped off emergency supplies including ice and water, and ferried back women and children.
The roads in and out of Lake Conjola and Manyana have been blocked by fallen trees and downed powerlines since New Year’s Eve and the towns are without power or running water.
Smaller tinnies, still sporting fishing rods, made beach landings to collect the elderly, while jet skis ferried mothers and their children to larger boats.
The fishermen and recreational boaters who formed the citizen armada were hailed as “guardian angels” by 87-year-old Dorothy Featherstone after she was lifted out of a charter boat.
“The crew are wonderful people who are helping their community out of the kindness of their hearts – they don’t expect anything back,” she said.
“I was helped down to the beach and they said ‘put your bum on the side of the boat’ and they swung my legs in and brought me to safety.
“I’ve never seen anything like the bushfires, it was just unbelievable.”
Ms Featherstone’s grandson Rhys Featherstone was among those loading slabs of water at the Ulladulla boat ramp.
“Emergency services are stretched so our community has banded together to help each other out,” Mr Featherstone said.
“There hasn’t been power or water out there since New Year’s Eve.”
Sydney parents Jeremy and Corinne Hulse boarded a tinny back Ulladulla after a terrifying period separated from their 20-month old daughter who was stranded with her grandmother in Lake Conjola.
The Sutherland Shire couple had been out to buy supplies with their other younger children Archer and Olive along with Corinne’s father, when they were blocked out by the flames with only patchy reception.
“That’s terrifying, not being able to get to them, knowing the fire was on its way,” Mrs Hulse told The Daily Telegraph.
They stayed in a friend’s motel before police ordered them to take refuge at Milton Swimming Pool, she said.
“We just watched the ferocity of the smoke come over. It was quite surreal and quite scary… it was burning where my mum and other child was,” Mrs Hulse said.
“The last message we got from my mum was that she’d been separated from everyone.”
They were forced to move to an evacuation centre in Ulladulla before being put up in a cottage with no power.
But Mrs Hulse feared the worst for her family, and after spending “a horrible night” listening to sirens outside they decided to walk from Narrawallee inlet to Lake Conjola to find their daughter on New Year’s Day.
“I found a paddle boarder and a jetskier and they took me and the kids over the inlet,” Mrs Hulse said.
After scrambling over blackened rocks and an ash-cloaked beach they found baby Adeline safe at Mrs Hulse’s parents home before being taken back to Ulladulla in tinnies.
“My neighbour drove us in a 4WD over to Green Island, where there were boats waiting. Some local guys in their dinghies were ferrying people to bigger fishing boats,” Mrs Hulse said.
“They were so brave, and they were sending supplies over as well.”
The Hulse family praised the “incredible community spirit” of strangers, rural firefighters and police working around the clock to help them to safety.
“We’re definitely going to pay it forward,” Mrs Hulse said.
Sydney woman Kelly McJannett has been worried for her younger sister Caitlin McJannett, Caitlin’s boyfriend Oscar Langley and two other their friends since they became stranded in the hamlet of Manyana on New Year’s Day.
Kelly had a near sleepless night after posting a callout on social media for anyone with a boat to help her 28-year-old sister. On Friday morning a Good Samaritan promised to set off from Ulladulla in his tinny to lend a hand.
“He reckons there’s about five boats that are leaving with him,” she told The Daily Telegraph.
The 33-year-old mum said when she last spoke to her sister the area had no power.
“She was calm, but her phone’s not working so it’s really hard when you can’t communicate… now I think they’re probably out of battery,” she said.
“It’s very difficult. We’re just waiting and keeping our fingers crossed.”
Evacuees along the coast have been hampered by huge traffic delays while others have queued for hours for fuel to get away, and police escort efforts were stopped briefly overnight due to danger from falling trees.
Kelly hopes if her sister is not rescued by a boat her car will have enough petrol to get them through any gridlock on the road.
“We’re worried about them getting in the scenario where they’re on the highway and end up getting trapped, that’s our worst fear.
Originally published as Good Samaritan fleet rescues strangers trapped by flames