Surveying the charred remains of his home of 32 years, the full weight of Ron Heperi’s devastation sinks in.
“[These bushfires] are becoming standard,” he said, fighting back the tears.
“Welcome to Australia – wow.”
It is the first time Mr Heperi has been back since fleeing the Tabulam property about 5.30pm on Wednesday, as a large bushfire whipped up “like a mini cyclone”, forming a nine-kilometre fire front.
“When this came through there was little [firefighters] could do,” he said.
“It was just like a wave of fire – it’s absolutely amazing.”
Fires in Tabulam, Tingha and Wallangarra destroyed 20 homes, the NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed on Friday morning.
The three blazes were all downgraded to advice level overnight as firefighters strengthened containment lines. However, the RFS said the fire danger in the region was still high.
“It may prove a challenging day for some areas up around that [Tingha] fire,” spokesman Chris Garlick said.
“But the work they’ve done over the past 24 hours will really go a long way to protecting some of the homes around that area.”
As the residents of fire-affected towns in the state’s north assess damage to their property and stock, many are still in disbelief.
After the fire ripped through Tabulam, Jill Adam was so desperate to find out the fate of her cattle, which had been agisting on another property due to drought, that she walked across a river and through paddocks to avoid a road block.
One cow and calf had perished in the blaze.
“The others managed to escape because a neighbour opened gates before he ran for his life,” she said.
“They’re very hungry now and they’re all covered in smoke and dust and grey and look horrible, but they’re a lovely lot of cattle.”
“We walked back home in the dark which was very traumatic [with] fire all around us and trees going off … and people’s cows were running and horses were running up and down the roads and the paddocks frantically.
“Everything was in shock, including us.”
‘We’ve lost everything’
Further south in Tingha, Todd Cross stood among piles of blackened, hollowed-out cars that formed part of his father’s 25-year-old car wrecking and scrap metal business.
“Fire just sort of raged through,” he said.
“We’ve lost everything … as you can probably see.”
Roads blocks meant he had been unable to help his parents defend the property as the blaze took hold.
“Dad and one of his mates tried to put the fires out – it obviously didn’t have much of an effect, it was just too powerful,” he said.
“I don’t know what sort of price you could put on what he’s lost – I mean he’s lost everything in the house as well, which is all our memories.
“Me and dad just sort of sat and cried for a while – no words really.”
Not far from the twisted metal remains of Mr Heperi’s home is the skeleton of an XT-250 Yamaha trail bike he had painstakingly restored.
Inexplicably, a large “crystal rock” garden ornament has been spared from the flames.
“Look of the size of that there, and it didn’t get touched,” he laughed.
When it was pointed out he was in good spirits for a bloke who had just about lost everything, he stopped laughing.
“Mate, after you’ve finished crying, that’s what happens,” he said.
As the victims of the fire slowly come to terms with what they’ve lost, the communities rally behind them.
Mr Heperi has been offered accommodation at a neighbour’s house while he finds his feet.
On the night his parents lost everything, Mr Cross said they were offered dinner at a friends’ place – at 3am.
“Everyone’s reaching out and offering what they can … [it’s] massive support, which is really good,” he said.