Hope rises from the ashes: how community spirit won out over hell's fury

THE reminders are hard to miss – blackened trees pockmark the landscape, street signs are charred at the edges, the sound of hammers and drills puncture the air.

It’s the sound of Coonabarabran rebuilding a year after hell and all its fury was so cruelly visited upon the town.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the horrific 2013 bushfires, a natural disaster that claimed 53 homes and destroyed 80 per cent of the Warrumbungle National Park.

A year on, memories of the fire remain seared into the psyche of the community, many who gathered last night for a special barbecue to commemorate the sombre milestone.

They are ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary firestorm; people like David and Dawn Keirle, who are still living out of a shed on their Timor Rd property while their home is rebuilt.

“This is part of dealing with it, a way to remember what’s now gone and what we’ve all been through,” Mrs Keirle said.

“We were living normal, comfortable lives and then this turmoil hit us.

“For us, January 13 will always be the day all hell broke loose.”

While some point out the folly of building in a bushfire zone, for the Keirles, rebuilding on the land was an easy decision.

“We obviously could have made other decisions but we just felt a connection to this land, this community,” Mrs Keirle said.

“We’re pulled to this place, it’s home.

“Losing everything made us realise what little you can live without.

“You lose some of your history, but you always have the memories.”

The Keirles lost their home, but Eliane Gardiner and Tricia Lithgow from neighbouring Tibuc Rd lost their livelihoods.

The friends, who only moved to Coonabarabran from Darwin three months before the tragedy, lost a bed and breakfast and a gallery/cafe in the blaze.

“It’s been tough but you have to be philosophical in life,” Ms Gardiner said.

“You have to look at all the positives because the negatives get you so depressed.

“The biggest positive has been how close it’s brought us all together – the community, our neighbours.”

The bed and breakfast has been rebuilt and the gallery is awaiting council approval but much of the surrounding environment will never come back, Ms Gardiner said.

“The eucalypts are coming back but the pine are still stark black and there are a lot of animal species I don’t think we’ll ever see again,” she said.

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