Investigation hears of New Years horror as Currowan’s bushfire turns deadly

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An inquest has heard details of the last desperate moments of three men who died defending their homes from the Currowan bushfires on the south coast of New South Wales.

Laurie Andrew, 70, John Butler, 75, and Michael Campbell, 69, all died on New Years Eve in 2019 when the fire hit Princes Highway and affected coastal villages between Malua Bay and Sussex Inlet .

Mr. Andrew, with the help of his friend Tony Reiman, spent the day fighting the fire at Mr. Andrew’s property in Yatte Yattah.

The NSW Bushfires Coronial Inquiry showed images of flames twice the height of trees falling on the property, which managed to be saved.

The areas around Yatte Yattah turned to hell on New Years Eve 2019.(

Provided: NSW Coroner’s Court

)

Late in the afternoon, after many hours of fighting the fire, Mr Andrew collapsed on the floor in his laundry.

With trees over the road and no way out in a vehicle, Mr. Reiman walked through hundreds of yards of burning trees to the highway to signal assistance.

Deputy lawyer Donna Ward told the investigation that a team from the Rural Fire Department entered the property with a chainsaw and administered CPR upon their arrival.

“By the time the paramedics arrived, Mr. Andrew was dead,” she said.

The inquest learned that he died of a heart attack.

A burnt house but standing.
Laurie Andrew collapsed and died after defending her home in 2019.(

Provided: NSW Coroner’s Court

)

On a nearby property, Mr. Butler, an experienced Bushman who had already fought several fires, was also defending his home.

A statement from a neighbor said she saw Mr. Butler on his tractor monitoring the fire at around 12:30 pm; it was the last time he was seen alive.

Mr. Butler was found in his car the next day still wearing his favorite akubra. His family believe he hesitated and made the decision to leave at the last minute.

In a statement, the family told the inquest that Mr Butler was born in Milton and still goes there every day for a cream pie and a chat.

“He had a jovial and friendly disposition,” the statement read.

“He was easily recognizable in his black akubra.

A ruined house.
The old Yatte Yattah school where John Butler lived.(

Provided: NSW Coroner’s Court

)

A third death

Twenty kilometers later, Mr. Campbell died on his property in Sussex Inlet.

The investigation learned that he, too, had stayed behind to defend his property, but that it had been destroyed.

Mr Campbell was found in his car, which was not burnt out, on New Years Day.

The court heard that he likely died of heat-related injuries as he tried to take shelter from the blaze.

The Currowan fire burned 500,000 hectares of bush between November 2019 and February 2020.

The investigation will continue on Thursday.


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