Melbourne-based Zoe Simmons had planned a relaxing New Year’s Eve. Driving back to her hometown of Malua Bay on the New South Wales South Coast, all she wanted was to kick back and relax with her family and friends. Lazing on the beach, with a cold drink in her hand, enjoying some much-needed downtime with the people she loved.
But like so many others, Zoe’s dream of a lazy summer break in the sun went up in smoke.
A gut-wrenching call from her mother at 7am changed everything: “The fire is coming. We have to leave.”
Glancing out the window, the now-familiar orange flow of fire seemed much too close for the comfort. Smoke billowed, as smouldering leaves fell from the sky.
Along with other locals and traumatised tourists, Zoe, her family and dogs made it to the Batemans Bay evacuation centre.
The fire and smoke were closing in. Breathing became almost impossible. Visibility was low, hampered by whirlwinds of ash falling from the sky.
“All I could hear were sirens, and the cacophony of helicopters and planes dropping water all around us,” Zoe said.
“And in a split second, everything changed. The sky turned a furious deep red, and the wind howled with hot, thick smoke. Even with sunglasses protecting my eyes and a washcloth protecting my face, I couldn’t see, or breathe: a flurry of ash whooshing for my eyes.”
With the horror of fire all around her, Zoe did her best to keep her community updated. As a freelance journalist, she understood the power of words—and information—at a time of crisis. In a town with no power, no communication and limited reception, she was a beacon of comfort to those battling the unknown, regularly updating her channels to help people desperate for information on their loved ones.
Days later, after a harrowing 16 hours on the road, Zoe finally made it home to Melbourne. But her heart remains in Batemans Bay. To help her recovering hometown, she’s sharing fundraisers and stories to assist the people who need it most: the people who have lost everything.
Zoe has written about her experience for News.com.au, 10 Daily, and hopes to continue to be a voice for the voiceless in a time of crisis.
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