NSW bushfires: Bemboka resident survives both Werri Berri and 1952 blazes

SURVIVOUR: Joan Cuzner survived not only the recent Werri Berri fire, but also the 1952 bushfire that swept through the Bega Valley when she was about eight years old.
SURVIVOUR: Joan Cuzner survived not only the recent Werri Berri fire, but also the 1952 bushfire that swept through the Bega Valley when she was about eight years old.

Bemboka's Joan Cuzner survived the massive bushfire that scorched the Bega Valley in 1952, but said the fire that came to her town last New Year's Eve was even more terrible.

"A lot of people say 1952 had the worse one, but they weren't in it to know the heat and ferocity," the 76-year-old said.

"I've never ever witnesses a fire like this. The heat was so immense.

"The fire in 1952 did move quickly, but it didn't seem to have the heat or storm weather. It wasn't changing direction, it was just spreading out as it went."

Jilian Hayes captured this incredible image from her family farm at Bemboka with the Werri Berri fire closing in over the hills earlier this year.

Jilian Hayes captured this incredible image from her family farm at Bemboka with the Werri Berri fire closing in over the hills earlier this year.

She, her husband Allen Cuzner and son Clint Cuzner stayed to fight the Werri Berri fire, which has now burnt 26,700ha.

The blaze is being controlled by the NSW Rural Fire Service, but as of Thursday is still burning to the north of Bemboka and west of Brogo and has joined with the 241,500haBadja Forest Road fire that claimed two lives at Wandella.

Ms Cuzner said she was petrified watching flames shoot to up about 80 feet high outside town before the Werri Berri fire arrived in Bemboka about 8am on December 31.

A screengrab of video by Mick O'Reilly as Bemboka residents fight to save homes during the recent Werri Berri fire.

A screengrab of video by Mick O'Reilly as Bemboka residents fight to save homes during the recent Werri Berri fire.

She said it came within metres of their house, but they successfully protected it and other properties on Bemboka St, although it was not easy.

"It made it's own weather. We were fighting it trying to stop it crossing the road to houses, and thought it was okay, but then it came behind us," Ms Cuzner said.

"The wind was taking the fire everywhere."

She said the heat was so incredible even trees that were about 50 yards away from the fire itself are now dying because what she believes was the heat generated from the blaze.

The fire that devastated the region in January 1952 claimed five lives in Upper Brogo, Bega and Quaama and at the time The Sunday Herald reported 85 homes had been destroyed and over 800,000ha of pasture had been burnt in Bega's district alone.

That year, Ms Cuzner was about eight years old and had just moved with her family from Tathra to a farm at Buckajo, outside Bega.

These farm sheds were some of the buildings that were destroyed in the bushfire that swept through the Bega Valley in 1952.

These farm sheds were some of the buildings that were destroyed in the bushfire that swept through the Bega Valley in 1952.

They even still had a truckload of furniture sitting unloaded in their yard when the bushfire approached from the direction of Candelo.

Ms Cuzner's mother took her and her three sisters to a dam near their home to find shelter as they were the youngest in the family.

"I hated the dam, it was full of snakes and goannas! But Mum said 'stay out there and get burnt or get in there'," Ms Cuzner said.


The fire then travelled around the dam as they waited in the water before it continued on its path and fortunately the family's house and dairy remained standing.

Ms Cuzner thanked her son for his efforts during the New Year's Eve fire, saying "he was just everywhere".

This story NSW bushfires: Bemboka resident survives both Werri Berri and 1952 blazes first appeared on Bega District News.

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