Eerie escape: Man saves 'guardian angel' as fire closes in
DEEPWATER resident Aaron Nimmo, 53, has described the harrowing moment he awoke to a fire just moments from his home on Sunday November 25th.
As a musician of 30 years, Aaron said he often stayed up late and slept through the day, "so I was sleeping in when the smoke woke me up".
"I woke up coughing and spluttering and I looked around and it was pretty thick in my bedroom," he said.
It was about 2pm, hours after the first alerts had been sent to warn residents of the impending destruction.
"I didn't even check my phone, I just ran straight outside to have a look," Aaron said.
"I was confronted with a black wall of smoke that you couldn't see through, and the swirling of ash and embers were falling on me.
"I could hear the noise, it was like a vicious animal coming at you, it just doesn't stop.
"The slow drone of a growl sort of, impossible to describe."
He thought "that's not good".
"I ran back inside, grabbed my phone, 'oh shit' I saw the two get out now messages - which were hours old - and one after that from a neighbour, which said 'mate, this is really serious, you need to get out now'," he said.
He hadn't received any door knocks, nothing to wake him except the hauntingly all-too-close presence of the Deepwater blaze.
He considered that perhaps the firefighters had mistaken his camp at the front of his property for a house and "gone 'oh, no one's here' and left cause that's where you go to if you go up my driveway, straight into an old camp but you've got to go around the back to get to my actual place".
He said he couldn't hear any trucks down his street, no sirens, nothing.
"It was eerie, there was no traffic, there were no firemen, there was nothing but the smoke, the heat and that noise," he said.
"I ran back inside totally dazed and confused because I had no plan.
"I've learnt my lesson there, I'm going to have that bag packed ready to go.
"I literally had minutes, and I didn't know what to grab - I grabbed the most ridiculous random items like the remains of my dead dog.
"Why did I grab that? I'm still trying to deal with that."
Although he's having a hard time rationalising why he grabbed the ashes of his 16-year-old stumpy-tailed cattle dog Occy, he said he was so glad he did - "I think I'd be devastated now."
"He was my guardian angel, there's no other way to say it - he was responsible for keeping me alive on more than one occasion," he said.
"He never left my side once since he was a puppy... until the day he died and he had to be put down.
That was two years ago and Aaron still wasn't quite over his loss.
He packed Occy's remains among other items he thought to pack in the panic, leaving behind important documents and, sadly, his guitar.
"'I can't stay. I've got to go, I've got to go now' - I got in the car, started down the street and I thought 'oh my god, what if it's too late?"
"It was like Armageddon down there."
He turned a corner and drove around to the fire station - "I thought 'I'm stuck'."
"I was thinking about survival after that "Where am I going to go? What can I do to get out of this? And there was nowhere, there was nothing."
"I was thinking, 'There is no shelter, there's absolutely nothing I can do except roast in my car now' so that was pretty frightening."
It was difficult to see more than a few metres in front of him, and Aaron described driving through Deepwater "nightmarish" as he sought safety
Eventually, he had gotten past the thick of the disaster, he came across emergency service crews at Deepwater Public School who "said 'You're not going back, this is the last line'."
He said he and other residents had waited at a safe distance by Baffle Creek for multiple days, sleeping in cars while they waited for news on when they could return home.
He said it was either Monday or Tuesday when he eventually went to the Miriam Vale Evacuation Centre - "I don't know, times a bit confusing."
"It's really hard to put into words, I don't know how I'm feeling today actually, just simply because I've got mixed emotions"
"I still really don't know what's been happening, whether I still have a place to go back to really - They say structurally but you know, is everything damaged?"
"There's all these questions going through my mind - I'm just grateful to be here you know."