At first they could only stand and stare at what was left of the cul-de-sac end of Sunny Ridge Road in Winmalee and much of Emma Parade, while attempting to comfort loved ones and later trying to salvage anything left.
A small but steady stream of residents returned from first light on Friday morning to the place they call home — some for their first glimpse since the fiery hell of the afternoon before.
The lifeless shades of black and grey ash enveloping the landscape proving cruelly hypnotic, the eerie silence almost deafening.
But at least they were alive to tell the tale.
Seven adjoining homes that back onto bushland were destroyed on Thursday along Sunny Ridge Road, yet others in the fire’s path were completely untouched.
Andrew Byrnes, his wife Alysha, daughter Jaz and the family’s kelpie, Bray, returned to find their home was a statistic.
“I was at work on Thursday and my wife heard about the fires at 2pm when she was coming to pick up Jaz from her school in Penrith,” Mr Byrnes said.
“She made it to Hawkesbury Road but had to stop where it got blocked. I drove towards here from the other way.
“We couldn’t get to our street and we didn’t know if our homes were still there or not at that stage.
“We’ve lost the house but we are okay and luckily so is our dog.
“Our neighbour, Joanne [who also lost her house], was able to save our dog before she evacuated — she was only one of a couple of residents who were at our street when the fire came.
“That really meant a lot to us.”
Mr Byrnes said his family ise now staying at his mum’s place in Penrith.
“Hopefully the insurance company will do the right thing with our house.
“It’s too early to make any decisions yet, but I don’t think we’ll go anywhere else to live — we love it here in Springwood.”
Anthony and Helen Walton’s home at number 20 was spared by the fire — but only by two metres.
Mr Walton felt for his neighbours and said “you couldn’t be prepared for a fire like this.”
“We’ve been here for three fires and this is by far the biggest and the quickest moving I’ve ever seen.
“I could see the fire front coming down the slope at about 15 knots.
“By 12.30pm I had a sense something was not right and well before 2.30pm we were right in the thick of it.
“We left after this tree was alight, about two metres from our back deck, and we and a neighbour drove up the hill [towards Hawkesbury Road], looked back and saw two houses already alight.
“We were able to have 14 large trees removed from our property with council’s approval in February and March and that might have contributed to saving our house.
“Although we had our son’s car in the drive, a tyre stack and two gas cylinders in the yard, luckily they didn’t go up, they weren’t even touched, yet the house directly next door went up and most of our backyard.
“The most scary thing was listening to the sound of the fire, the crackling and the loud explosions popping at regular intervals.
“You just knew something bad was about to happen and you knew there was absolutely nothing you could do. I was thanking all my gods.”
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons met the Waltons and Byrnes on Thursday afternoon, alongside Member for Blue Mountains Roza Sage, Member for Macquarie Louise Markus and Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill, after delivering an update of the fire situation to a large media scrum.
Mrs Sage said the Blue Mountains community “is so resilient — this has already been shown by so many people offering to welcome others into their own homes.
“As an MP who has lived in the Blue Mountains for so long, my heart goes out to everyone affected by these fires.
“There are many people I know in the community who have lost their homes. It’s heartbreaking.”