Pambula woman Alexandra Seddon cannot believe her beloved Potoroo Palace survived Friday’s fire.
As they evacuated on Friday afternoon, her driver with Sapphire the koala clutching onto his chest, thick smoke was everywhere.
Also evacuated was head keeper Vicky McPaul of Nethercote and Eden’s Tom Rogers, one of the park’s fire wardens.
“It’s an absolute miracle and the RFS did an amazing job, there were spot fires in the koala plantation and all along Red Gum Road we could see trees burning,” Alexandra said.
Given just 20 minutes to evacuate, Ms Seddon said some animals had to be left behind.
Some, like the reptiles were comfortable in the record breaking temperatures.
The nine flying foxes, which can die in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, survived by hanging under the mister in their enclosure.
Also reluctantly left behind were emus, wallabies, eastern grey kangaroos and the potoroos.
It was a devastating decision for Mrs McPaul.
“At the time everything went well but afterwards I fell to pieces,” she said.
“Not knowing their fate was sickening.”
She fled with Rusty the dingo, a park veteran, in her car.
“Rusty, who is about 12, was a little bit nervous, but he settled in and he loved the air conditioning. He sat up like a king on the seat.”
Other evacuees included more dingoes, possums, echidnas, parrots, a Cape Barren goose, ducks and two humble goldfish.
“We had to work out what we could do in 20 minutes, there’s no way you can catch a potoroo in 10 minutes,” she said.
Ms Seddon and Mrs McPaul weighed up the risks of a stressful evacuation with the threat of bushfire.
“If we popped them in bags for an indefinite amount of time it would stress them out,” she said.
“We have misters on a lot of the animal pens, sprinklers as well, and we left that system on when we left.”
The RFS took Ms Seddon back to the park after the front passed through.
She found the sprinklers still going and the animals were alive.
“It was wonderful that they allowed me to come in on Friday night to see all the animals.
“The cockies called out to me and all the seven potoroos looked as well.”
Ms Seddon praised her staff for following the fire plan and taking such good care of the animals.
“Everybody just fell into their roles, we went down underneath the (Club Sapphire) and we started to decide where we would house them overnight,” she said.
“There was no loss of life, we thought we lost one goldfish, and had to aerate the water by hand but we resuscitated it and its ok,” she laughed.
“The three ducks and the goose went to a unit at Merimbula and settled on the swimming pool, although the goose was storming around the pool enclosure.”
Ms Seddon said the incident validated her fire plan, and her use of mains and tank water.
“Even though we had a plan it was validation for keeping things as green as we could, that prevented some spot fires,” she said.
“It’ll be a huge water bill but it’s our insurance policy.”
Mrs McPaul said she would choose not to stay and defend her Nethercote home.
“I’m a member of the RFS and my plan is to take my family, the animals and leave,” she said.
Both ladies, and all the staff at Potoroo Palace deeply thanked the RFS and the community who has shown support this week.
“Everyone has been so wonderful, we’re still in shock but we are very grateful,” Ms Seddon said.