South Coast bushfires: Colin Brennan was the light in the dark at Nerrigundah

THIS IS HOME: Colin and Jacob Brennan, father and son, at their Nerrigundah home which was destroyed by bush fire on New Year's Eve.
THIS IS HOME: Colin and Jacob Brennan, father and son, at their Nerrigundah home which was destroyed by bush fire on New Year's Eve.

Nerrigundah is a small village in south-eastern NSW. It's at the head of the Tuross River Valley, 19km inland from Bodalla. At the 2016 census, Nerrigundah had a population of 25.

So when 12 people huddled inside the village's fire shed on New Year's Eve, they were truly in trouble. Violent flames battered the doors of the shed, everyone struggled to see through the darkness.

It was pitch black, and the shed's roller shutter door was losing the battle against the "cylone-like" blaze.

The darkness, however, was nothing new for Colin "Cole" Brennan, who is legally blind, and he moved around the shed easily.

While RFS members took turns leaning against the door, Mr Brennan mixed fire retardant with water and sloshed it on the floor to stop embers coming underneath.

The sprinkler system installed on the shed also helped, and Nerrigundah RFS brigade captain Ron Threlfall thanked Mr Brennan for getting the pump started.

"He could run rings around most people because once he knows where things are, he's fine," Mr Threlfall said.

"He used to be our pump operator years ago. You can trust him to be on the pump. He managed to get it started."

Cole would not take the credit for it, however, and said he just did "normal things".

"I suss things out before I go, I have a white stick - I call it the 'bumper bar'," he said.

The Nerrigundah community are still coming to terms with what happened that day.

Out of about 30 properties, most were burnt, including Cole's. "It's an eerie feeling in the valley. It's like a nuclear winter," he said.

Made of mud brick and still intact.

Made of mud brick and still intact.

He now lives on the property in a caravan with his wife, and son, Jacob, who camps next to him.

Now without satellite internet, much of his connection to the outside world is lost.

He rarely left his home before, and relied on satellite radio stations for information.

He said the satellite service, a composting toilet and cheaper rubbish disposal would help him move forward.

The stairs to the back verandah.

The stairs to the back verandah.

And perhaps some new pearly whites: "I've got no teeth, they're in there somewhere, sitting on the amenity basin if you can find them," he laughed.

Cole renovated the closed Nerrigundah Public School and turned it into a home. He added his own sound studio, which went up in smoke, along with valuable guitars and LP vinyl records.

The height charts of his children, grandchildren and audio tapes holding family memories were also destroyed.

Even the Christmas pudding and some silverside Mr Brennan had cooked on their brand new spit would be missed, he and Jacob laughed.

"Life was sweet, life was nice, but fire took it all," Cole said.

"There's a melancholy in it. There are memories there. (But now) they're just wires hanging on a pole, or crumbling brick."

He had been offered to stay elsewhere, but Nerrigundah was his home. "Here we can have a place, it's like a campsite now, like we're on holidays," he said.

Once he had toilets, wash facilities and water storage, he could then start designing something more permanent.

If you would like to make a donation to the Nerrigundah community, go to THIS gofundme page.

This story Cole's special skills saved the day as fire rages through village first appeared on Bay Post-Moruya Examiner.