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NSW fires: Roy Annesley's superhuman story of survival against all odds

November 8 started off like any other day; there were fires looming in the distance, but then they'd been there for weeks.

Every person in the Nambucca Valley of NSW who came face-to-face with that dreadful firestorm say the same thing: "There was no warning, and no way anyone could have prepared for what happened".

Roy Annesley had just clocked off from work and was on his way home along Williams Hill Rd near Gruber's Winery.

The wind had picked up and he knew the fire was getting closer so he decided to head to a mate's place to see what his plans were. He took off in a pair of shorts, a shirt and thongs.

"He told me he was evacuating, so I decided to do the same," he said.

"I took off on me bike to grab me sheep and me dog."

Roy said at that point the only visible smoke was about 20km away.

"But I probably underestimated the bushfire," he said. "We all did."

He'd only just arrived in the driveway to his property when a wall of flames travelling "like a freight train" came out of nowhere.

It was like the wind was on fire - it was a southerly and it was blowing pretty hard. It just picked up the fireball and threw it at me.

Roy Annesley

"I couldn't believe how quick it went. It was going 200kph - there was no way you could outrun it."

And then, just as quickly, it was gone. Roy was left in a state of shock; it wasn't until a few moments later that Roy realised he'd been burnt.

What happened next was a blur of pure instinct. Five weeks on, pieces of the nightmare are still coming back to Roy in fragments.

"I ran over and tried to unclip me dog but all me hands were burnt and I couldn't get a grip," he said.

Roy is still hopeful that he will find his dog, Daisy

Roy is still hopeful that he will find his dog, Daisy

Somehow he did manage to let his dog off its leash.

Roy looked around. In the fireball's wake little spots of flame had been left everywhere.

"My back verandah doesn't have a wall, so the fire went straight through me house. My loungeroom was on fire," he said.

Roy grabbed a hose and tried to douse the flames, stamping at others with his thongs.

But more fires just kept spotting up. And he needed a reprieve from the heat.

He jumped into a metal tub half-full of water and immersed his body, damp shirt over his head.

"But the shack was on fire and the gas bottles I had on the back deck were exploding," he said.

He knew he couldn't stay.

I jumped out of the tub, straight into a pool of melted aluminium.

Aluminium has a melting point of 660 degrees C. But the fireball which stormed the area had been hot enough to melt the guttering around his house which had trickled down into a scorching puddle around the tub.

Roy's first instinct was to jump from the foot he'd landed on to the other. But it too landed in the molten metal.

It was only this week that Roy remembered why his feet are so severely damaged.

Photo: submitted

Photo: submitted

"I walked up the driveway and sat down for a minute. I noticed an old bathtub my dog used to drink out of, filled with black leaves and slime and I crawled into it for a bit," he said.

"But I knew I needed to get help. So I walked about a kilometre across burnt sticks and boiling rocks to get to a neighbour's house," he said.

How he managed to walk with both feet cooked is a testament to the human will to survive. When he arrived at his neighbour's house, he found the phone lines were down.

Exhausted and defeated, he lay on the lounge and passed out.

When he came to he was dying of thirst and went in search of water. But there was none to be found in the house. He clambered to the toilet, undid the cistern and drank its contents.

With a flash of hope, he noticed the neighbours had left their car keys and he jumped in their car to try and find some help.

But every direction he drove, trees had fallen, blocking his exit.

He returned to his neighbour's property and tried to search for anything else he could drink.

He spied a shed, and found a fridge with a few bottles of beer.

After downing a couple he noticed spot fires cropping up around the house. Embers were raining down, and Roy put the last of his energy into protecting his neighbour's house through the evening.

With the danger mostly extinguished, and after consuming the last bottles of beer, he went back into the house and passed out on the bed.

The next thing he remembers is daylight flooding his retinas and a lady shouting.

Paramedics were called, but with so many trees blocking their entry, they had to be taxied by ute and then walk in.

Eventually Roy was taken to Macksville before a rescue chopper flew him down to Sydney's Concord Hospital, home to the NSW Severe Burn Injury Service.

Roy was placed into an induced coma for three weeks, only regaining consciousness for the first time last week.

"I came to and worked out I was in ICU," he said.

Roy has severe burns on most of the skin on his limbs.

"Basically my shirt protected me, and my shorts did too, and if I wasn't wearing my bike helmet I'd be screwed," he said.

"You can see I was wearing thongs because there's a line of skin that didn't burn that was under the thong straps.

But all me legs and arms are burned. One of my legs was burned down to the bone. But my feet are the worst.

Roy said he's already had over 100 skin grafts. And there's many more to come.

"All my arms and hands have skin grafts. I had one tattooed arm, but they've taken grafts from that arm and used them for other parts of me," he said. "I never had tattoos on me thumb before, but now I do.

"I look like Freddy Krueger, but I'm pretty lucky to be alive."

His knuckles are gone, and he now has a tattooed thumb and ring finger

His knuckles are gone, and he now has a tattooed thumb and ring finger

Roy said the staff at Concord are proud of how hard he's fighting.

"Last week I couldn't walk, now I can walk with the frame," he said.

"Still, each day you wake up and you're back to square one, and have to stretch out the skin again."

He's on painkillers, but Roy said he's still in constant agony.

"There's pain everywhere, and I feel so stiff because of all the grafts. I've got no knuckles anymore, and I have to press and make grooves for myself just so I can bend my hands," he said.

Photo taken by Roy's family

Photo taken by Roy's family

He's booked in for more grafts on Monday now that his leg has regrown some muscle.

"They're gonna chop bits out of me back for that," he said. "And I'll probably be immobilised for five days after those skin grafts."

He's not looking forward to that at all.

"I hate hospitals. I don't watch televisions normally, I just listen to radio. And I work a lot of the time, and when I'm not working I usually keep myself busy," he said. "Sitting here is driving me mad."

There are also more troubles ahead for Roy with the ownership of his property being contested. This sign has been put up since Roy has been in hospital.

There are also more troubles ahead for Roy with the ownership of his property being contested. This sign has been put up since Roy has been in hospital.

As much as he loathes the situation, Roy said he has no idea when he'll be able to go home.

But then, for Roy, there's no home to return to anymore. And he's not even sure he wants to go back and see the property he's called home for 20 years.

"Watching my shack burn in 10 minutes was pretty upsetting," he said.

"I'd just got a $30,000 loan to fix up my house and it's all gone - everything's gone. The only thing left standing is my chimney.

"My ute's gone, my sheep got burnt, and I don't know what happened to my dog.

"I've been having nightmares and I feel like breaking down all the time. I just feel shattered."

But one thing that's softened the trauma for Roy, is how the Nambucca Valley has thrown their arms around him.

I want to thank the community for all their support. I'm really overwhelmed and it's making me try harder.

"I honestly didn't know there were that many people who cared."

A GoFundMe page for Roy has now raised over $5000. If you would like to donate you can by following this link.

This story 'I look like Freddy Krueger, but I'm pretty lucky to be alive' first appeared on Guardian News.