‘Insane’ escape from stricken town
At 1am this morning, 18-year-old Travis Radford collapsed onto a stranger's bed, exhausted.
He'd had a big day. Probably the biggest day of his young life.
"I was forced to make a rather swift exit from Eden as fires were threatening my life and town," he said.
A stranger at the neighbouring town of Bega offered their home to Mr Radford and his mother, as well as their three pets.
"I'm safe now in Bega … in the house of a kind stranger," he said.
Hello friends. Sorry to those of you who were keeping updated with my tweets. I was forced to make a rather swift exit from #Eden, as fires were threatening my life and town. I'm safe now in Bega, seeking refuge in the house of a kind stranger. #NSWfires #SouthCoastFires— Travis (@trav_is_radford) January 4, 2020
Mr Radford was born and raised in Eden, a country town six hours away from Sydney along the NSW south coast.
It's a town that is under threat thanks to the ferocious Border fire that has crossed from Victoria into southern New South Wales.
Late last night, Eden residents received a knock on their doors with advice that evacuation was now a very real option.
Mr Radford and his mum jumped into their car, taking only their most valuable possessions. That included their dog and two cats.
"We left in a very long convoy of cars led by a police car," Mr Radford told news.com.au. "Lots of ash (was) falling from Eden to Bega. I had to keep squirting and wiping the windscreen, to keep the ash off."
With debris, falling ash and struggling wildlife, cars were unable to drive the usual speed of 100km/hour, he said.
"The journey took an hour and a half instead of 40 minutes."
But Mr Radford's journey wasn't over once he reached civilisation.
"The only evac centre accepting pets was Bega Showgrounds. But it was full. We were told we would have to sleep in our cars. There was also talk of sleeping in a shopping centre."
Help came to the family in the way of a perfect stranger.
"I posted a request for a place to stay on a community Facebook group," Mr Radford said.
A family offered their home to the two bushfire evacuees.
The family had already fled the area. Around midnight, the neighbour let them in. Mr Radford and his mother were able to shower and get a decent night's sleep.
It's not the first time Mr Radford has come across a moment of kindness amid the cruel bushfire conditions his hometown has faced.
"The community are really coming together"
Mr Radford works at a local cafe. "People were coming in pyjamas, just trying to get coffee. Staff and customers were crying together. Food was running out all the while."
Although the cafe was forced to shut with staff fleeing and conditions worsening, the owner found a different use for her business.
"My boss opened up the cafe for people to stay. It stayed open all night long."
While Mr Radford went to sleep relatively safe and sound in Bega last night, he had friends and colleagues who chose to remain in Eden.
"It's too late to leave now," Mr Radford said.
"All the roads are closed. Essentially everyone is trapped. And the RFS are predicting for it to get worse. It's insane."
Remaining residents have been instructed to find a safe place as the bushfire rapidly approaches.
Eden hadn't seen sunlight for 14 hours since a bushfire surrounded the town, according to ABC reporter Phil Williams.
"Welcome to a vision of hell. Here we are at this hour of the morning and it is still darkened with orange glow in the sky," Mr Williams said.
He described what was happening as "apocalyptic."
"Extraordinary, apocalyptic sort of scenes. It is like you imagine about horror movie, when the bomb goes off," he said.