Couple killed in bushfire found love late in life

 

The elderly couple who died in the bushfires which ripped through northern NSW had just married three years ago after falling in love late in life, a friend said.

Retired service station owner Bob Lindsey, 77, and farmer Gwen Hyde, 69, are believed to have perished at their isolated Deadman Creek Road house at Coongbar which backed onto forest.

Bob Lindsey is believed to have died at Coongbar in the Long Gully fire.
Bob Lindsey is believed to have died at Coongbar in the Long Gully fire. The Northern Star

 

Gwen Hyde is also thought to have died when their home at Coongbar was destroyed by fire.
Gwen Hyde is also thought to have died when their home at Coongbar was destroyed by fire. Jerad Williams

Police have confirmed that they found human remains. Neighbours said the Long Gully Road fire had "roared" through.

The couple's friend Carol Dillon said she didn't think they would have stood a chance.

"I'm hoping it was very quick," Ms Dillon said.

The couple each had children from their first marriages.

Mr Lindsey used to run the service station in Casino and married Ms Hyde after her husband Archie died, the friend said.

"It was a lovely wedding, a quiet one," Ms Dillon said.

The ceremony was held in the courthouse at Casino.

"Everyone was pleased they got together," she said.

She said Gwen was a farmer who loved the land.

The Long Gully Road fire has been burning for more than a month and fire investigators have determined the blaze was caused by a lightning strike.

There was a large scale search operation for the pair including firefighters, local police and specialist officers.

Forensic investigators are believed to have visited the couple's property this morning and found the remains.

The Long Gully Rd fire is not being treated as suspicious.

NSW police hold serious concerns for a number of people who are unaccounted for after this week's devastating Rappville blaze.

Superintendent Toby Lindsay won't say how many people police are actively looking for but says the trail of destruction left by the Northern Rivers fire is sobering.

"We are worried about a number of people," he said while in Rappville, where at least 11 homes were lost in a fire storm on Tuesday.

"We always hope for the best but we've obviously got to treat it at its worst. We've seen the devastation in town. It's a very large fire and it's still active."

Tina Haag, Robert Collier and their children Jesse, 6, Villiam, 3, Nora, 2, and Edward, 2 months, in front of what was their family's home in Rappville. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Tina Haag, Robert Collier and their children Jesse, 6, Villiam, 3, Nora, 2, and Edward, 2 months, in front of what was their family's home in Rappville. Picture: Dylan Robinson

Police are investigating whether a "bastard act" of arson was behind the inferno which has been declared a catastrophe by the Insurance Council of Australia.

ICA CEO Rob Whelan encouraged affected property owners to contact their insurers as quickly as possible. He said the catastrophe declaration meant claims from the affected areas would be given priority by insurers and that the industry hoped to reduce some of the emotional and financial stress experienced by residents and businesses.

"Insurers are standing by to help customers in this region, with assessors mobilising to examine properties once it's safe to do so," Mr Whelan said.

Devastated Rappville residents were still surveying the charred wreckage of their lives yesterday after the wall of fire - which one mayor likened to "Armageddon" - ripped through their village in its 90,000-hectare path of destruction on Wednesday.

How the two fire fronts met up.
How the two fire fronts met up.

Among those residents were Tina Haag, 37, her partner Robert Collier, 32, and their four young children, who returned to the burnt-out shell of their home after managing to escape on Tuesday with a handful of clothes.

"I wish I could have brought some of the precious things, photo books," Ms Haag said. "The kids are okay, they are surprised. We only left a few hours before we heard the fires came through. I only left with some clothes for the kids and a pink robe."

The couple rushed Jesse, 6, Villiam, 3, Nora, 2 and Edward, just two months old, into their car and fled to Mr Collier's sisters' home, where he had to borrow a pair of sparkly purple thongs.

They are now the only shoes he has.

The family fled to Mr Collier’s sister’s home. Picture: Dylan Robinson
The family fled to Mr Collier’s sister’s home. Picture: Dylan Robinson

Fellow Rappville local, Tanya, endured a hellish night seeking shelter inside the town as fire blazed around her.

"I had just missed the cut-off where firies were letting people out of the town. I saw them close off the road in front of me," she said.

"We all went to the school in the middle of town, I was horrified. The fire was all around us. I was talking to my mum on the phone before I lost reception. I can't imagine what she thought."

Troy Hook, 43, lost his home and his 11-year-old daughter Kyrah's pet cat.

"I managed to get my dog, my girl and get my caravan out before the fire came through. I'm lucky I could get out with that," he said.

"All my cars were destroyed, my shed is gone, my house is gone."

The home of Troy Hook and his daughter Kyrah Hook was taken by a fire in Rappville. Picture: Dylan Robinson
The home of Troy Hook and his daughter Kyrah Hook was taken by a fire in Rappville. Picture: Dylan Robinson

He was met at the charred remains of his belongings yesterday by neighbour Cam McInnes, 47, who told him through tears how locals and firefighters tried to save his home. "We spent all night fighting them mate," he said.

"There was nothing we could do."

Locals' resilience shone through yesterday when they returned to what was left of their homes with Mr Collier hoping to rebuild in the town.

"We were saving money to get married, I guess that can go into finding a new home here or putting some money towards buying some property," he said. "We don't want to leave".

However, he was yesterday infuriated by the offer of $1000 in emergency relief from the federal government.

Firefighters battle bushfires in Busbys Flat. Picture: AAP Image/Jason O'Brien
Firefighters battle bushfires in Busbys Flat. Picture: AAP Image/Jason O'Brien

"A thousand dollars, what will that do? Maybe clothes and groceries for two weeks. They need to understand we have lost everything," he said.

There was also anger from Emergency Services Minister David Elliott, who responded to investigations of whether the fire may have been deliberately lit by describing it as a truly "bastard act".

"This is not the time to play with matches, to play with fuel, to play with anything that will put lives at risk," he said. "It really is a bastard act is you're going to put your own community at risk."

Villiam Collier, 3, in front of what remains of his family's home. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Villiam Collier, 3, in front of what remains of his family's home. Picture: Dylan Robinson

 

The remains of Tina Haag and Robert Collier's family home. Picture: Dylan Robinson
The remains of Tina Haag and Robert Collier's family home. Picture: Dylan Robinson

RFS Superintendent Michael Brett revealed yesterday that early investigations indicate the fire was started on Friday evening at about midnight in the Busbys Flat area.

They are investigating whether it was deliberately lit with an indication there was suspicious activity in the area.

Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow said locals had never seen fires so violent.

"The fire just appeared out of nowhere - there were wild 70km/h winds and walls of flames," he said. "There were flames all around. It was like Armageddon."

Connie and Wayne Gerstenberg, who escaped the blaze at Rappville, waiting for fallen tree to be removed so they can return to their property. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Connie and Wayne Gerstenberg, who escaped the blaze at Rappville, waiting for fallen tree to be removed so they can return to their property. Picture: Dylan Robinson

Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said that on Wednesday two fires - at Drake near Tenterfield and at Busbys Flat near Rappville - had joined together to form one large blaze with reports birds dropping dead out of the sky.

There are still a number of people missing or reported missing but police have confirmed that there are no known fatalities.

 

DIGGING IN TO HEAL BATTLER'S SUFFERING

An 83-year-old Aussie battler who lost everything in the bushfires tearing through Rappville "dissolved into tears" of joy after a heartfelt fundraising effort netted over $16,000 to help him and his wife get back on their feet.

The community outpouring for pensioner John Duncan, 83, came after revelations of how he and wife Cassie were rescued from a shed after firefighters - responding to a tweet from his daughter Carol - went to his totally engulfed Rappville home metres away.

83-year-old John Duncan (centre with wife Cassie on left) lost everything in the fires blazing through the town of Rappville in northern NSW. Picture: Supplied
83-year-old John Duncan (centre with wife Cassie on left) lost everything in the fires blazing through the town of Rappville in northern NSW. Picture: Supplied

 

Just a few years after ­surviving a terminal cancer ­diagnosis and the Canberra bushfires, Mr Duncan lost everything in Tuesday's blaze - including a precious photograph of his mother and even his walking stick.

Intent on bringing her father some much-needed joy in the wake of the devastation, Carol on Tuesday launched a crowd-funding page which had last night raised $16,287 - way past the $10,000 target.

Ms Duncan, a Newcastle councillor and media professional, told The Daily Telegraph that her father broke down with tears of joy when she told him yesterday that she launched the page to help him and his wife, Cassie, to ­access bare essentials like food and medicine.

Carol Duncan tweeted:
Carol Duncan tweeted: "What remains of my Dad’s home."

Carol said she has been humbled by the response from both GoFundMe and the community and said her father's gratitude is immense.

"I know my father would be hugely grateful, embarrassed, and mumble and mutter through tears and just say thank you," she said.

The funds that aren't ­needed by John will go to ­support the Rural Fire Service and the local Rappville ­community.

- by Georgia Clark

 

FLAMING RESILIENT FOLK HOME AND HOSED

Farmers in northern NSW have been forced to take matters into their own hands ahead of what is expected to be one of the worst bushfire seasons in years.

With more than 30 homes already levelled by massive fires during the worst drought in living memory, a number of graziers like Bronwyn Petrie are now jerry rigging utes with water tanks and retired Rural Fire Service gear to protect their properties.

Bronwyn Petrie bought an old Rural Fire Service slide-on water tank and hose and said it has been invaluable. Pictures: Supplied by Grant Johnston in Tenterfield
Bronwyn Petrie bought an old Rural Fire Service slide-on water tank and hose and said it has been invaluable. Pictures: Supplied by Grant Johnston in Tenterfield

"We have an old RFS slip on tank which cost us about $800. It is worth its weight in gold," the Tenterfield local said.

"A lot of people have plastic tanks on the back of their utes but we prefer the metal as you don't need to worry about embers burning through the plastic."

Other preparations by locals include dry firefighting techniques like controlled burns and digging fire breaks.

Craig Little, who owns a property in Landers Lane, in Tenterfield's south, has already had two vicious fires sweep through his property - burning thousands of dollars worth of produce.

"We've been burnt out twice this year. The one in February was really bad and we just started to recover before the one that rolled through in the start of September," he said.

The remains of a bike at Tina Haag and Robert Collier's home. Picture: Dylan Robinson
The remains of a bike at Tina Haag and Robert Collier's home. Picture: Dylan Robinson

"We're trying to protect the country as good as we can before summer really starts. My father-in-law got on the tractor and cut out some fire breaks, a lot of locals do that."

Several locals are frustrated by the operations of the RFS, saying response times have been too slow since the organisation centralised their regional base in Glen Innes.

An RFS spokesman said the shift had not detracted from the speed or quality of firefighters dispatched to northern NSW fires.

The bushfire in Busbys Flat, northern NSW, on Wednesday. Picture: AAP Image/Jason O'Brien
The bushfire in Busbys Flat, northern NSW, on Wednesday. Picture: AAP Image/Jason O'Brien
The shell of a car at Troy Hook’s home. Picture: Dylan Robinson
The shell of a car at Troy Hook’s home. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Firefighters battle bushfires in Busbys Flat. Picture: AAP Image/Jason O'Brien
Firefighters battle bushfires in Busbys Flat. Picture: AAP Image/Jason O'Brien
Part of the fire seen on Summerland Way, just south of Casino. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Part of the fire seen on Summerland Way, just south of Casino. Picture: Dylan Robinson


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