A flicker in the speakers at Club Taree sends a shiver down its chief executive Morgan Stewart’s spine.
This sound usually means the venue’s generator has kicked in out of reaction to the town losing electricity.
The club has become an evacuation centre as multiple wildfires batter Taree and the surrounding area on the New South Wales mid north coast.
Up to 900 sudden refugees sought sanctuary here on Friday night with trucks and B-doubles lining the golf course, while dogs, cats, lizards and wallabies wait out the destructive blazes alongside their beloved owners.
The evacuees are stoic and compassionate in the face of disaster. Some have lost everything, while others wait anxiously on news about their homes’ condition.
“People just don’t know and they won’t until they get back home,” Mr Stewart says. “We’re trying to very carefully manage people’s anxiety as best we can.”
One breathless elderly man grasping a water bottle with shaking hands told news.com.au he tried to call his home out of desperation but the phone didn’t ring.
“Which probably means it’s all gone,” he said as he choked up in tears.
Others were more hesitant to reveal their emotions, instead expressing empathy for others who may have lost more.
But a wide-eyed labradoodle shaking on its owner’s lap details the flaming horror these evacuees have witnessed.
“She’s still a little shell shocked, the poor thing,” the dog’s owner said.
The clinical operation at Club Taree after being activated as an evacuation site has been managed by various services including Chaplaincy Australia, the Salvation Army, Red Cross and the Samaritans Foundation.
Mr Stewart said the community has also opened up their homes for those who have lost property, but these sudden refugees’ houses won’t be rebuilt in a few days.
Losing a home is not a temporary headache, he says.
“We’ve come to realise we’re in a marathon here, and that this isn’t going to stop today.
“We just need to apply resources. Thoughts and prayers are awesome, but what about actual resources? What do we do next?”
For those who’ve lost their homes to the fires, the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and the Disaster Recovery Allowance have been activated to provide financial assistance. Payments will provide $1000 for adults and $400 for children
“That is just to get people through the here and now. We understand there is a bigger job to be done,” Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud told Sky News. He urged fire victims to contact Centrelink to receive their payments
Mr Stewart and his family are also evacuees with the club’s chief executive resorting to sleeping in his office since the fires took over the region.
He and his wife anxiously watched the live broadcast on the news which showed the trees lining his Wallabi Point property engulfed in flames 70 feet high.
“We were sitting here yesterday morning and there was a shot of our street on the television.
“That tree line has 60 foot trees and it was just a wall of fire, so we immediately thought that was the house gone.”
Reports have filtered through from the coastal town indicating the house may still be standing, but the Stewarts won’t know until the roads reopen and they can get back home.
He said the heart sinking terror of seeing his home facing a fierce “wall of fire” while also witnessing the genuine compassion and generosity of the community has been a wild rollercoaster of emotions
The evacuees here are terrified of what awaits after the raging fires leave, but they are empathetic to one another and still keen for a laugh.
News.com.au overheard a good humoured resident joke that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had forgot to bring a mattress when he visited the evacuation centre this afternoon.
Mr Stewart said “it’s been tough”.
“But even if we’ve lost our house, it’s just a house. That sounds glib or a throwaway line, but it’s only a house, it’s a home when we’re in it,” he said.
“If the house went that would be really devastating, but you can rebuild a house.”