‘They had my back’: How care for kids eased fire horror
ERIN Bolch's voice quivers as she recounts her family's narrow escape from the fires that ravaged the Kangaroo Creek and Nymboida areas in November 2019.
The image of her speaking on a newly released video is one she can't watch often, as a painful series of events flood back into her mind.
Heavily pregnant with her fifth child, the family had returned late on Thursday night, the day before fires swept through the area.
"We were pretty much packed being away for the week," Ms Bolch said. "We had decided if we lost power we would evacuate - and (husband) Karl went for a drive at about 8pm and we lost it.
"So we packed all the kids up, plus three dogs, two cats and a bird and thought it'd be safer if we spend the night in town."
With the glare and heat seemingly chasing them out of the area, they found a spot at the Jacaranda Motel and waited - Mr Bolch sleeping in the car to look after the animals.
Mr Bolch headed back the next morning, the image of the Sentinel heat maps showing the fire had inundated their area at around 2-3am.
"He rang and said do you want good news or bad news," Ms Bolch said. "By that stage I just didn't care."
The good news was their house had been saved - "by a miracle," Ms Bolch said. The bad news everything else was gone. The septic system, all their sheds, electricity, kids toys and every blade of grass had been completely burned - making the still-standing house unliveable.
"It was really overwhelming to see it all, and it was a lot for the kids to take in - they weren't sure what was going on, and the eldest was very taken aback by it," Ms Bolch said.
But the bad news didn't end there.
Heading back out to the property later, their car was involved in an accident, and was a total write-off.
Stuck in their temporary accommodation with no home, no car and Ms Bolch's health being affected along with her pregnancy, she said it was a whole new level of stress.
And then she received a phone call from Nymboida Public School principal Renee Cooper, organising their kids to be taught at Grafton Public School until their own school was able to return.
"To have somewhere for the kids to go, so we could start sorting it all out, and for them to have that bit of normality - it was just wonderful," she said.
"They didn't have to hear us make those daunting calls, and talk about the fire, talk about insurance. It was a very stressful situation, and for them to have our back like that was … it was great."
Ms Bolch's story is one of many which occurred throughout the valley, and is part of a new video by the NSW Education Department talking about the shared experience of the November fires.
Students from both Nymboida and Baryulgil schools were hosted by Grafton Public in their time of need, and teachers and community members speak of how they all came together for the good of the students.
The experience was repeated in the townships of Baryulgil and Malabulgilmah, with residents stating that in more than 40 years of living in the communities they'd never seen anything like it.
"It's very hard to find the contact for somebody," principal of Baryulgil Public School Carly Woods said. "So I just rang the person I knew would be able to tell everyone."
One of those people, parent Terry Robinson said when he heard how the kids would be looked after by the school, there was only one word.
"When I got the call from Ms Woods it was like awesome, mad, deadly," he said on the video. "There's only one way to describe it."
Walking in on the Monday to classrooms set up by Grafton Public School staff, Ms Woods said she'd never seen the kids so excited after such a tragic event.
"To see them devastated, but see them get together and talk about what happened after the fires, you can see how close the community actually is," she said.
"It's a good old saying - it takes a village to raise a kid, and it's something I see out here (Nymboida) all the time, everyone just chimes in."
Ms Bolch said the support of the schools was their silver lining, and it came through in the video.
"To have the teachers and Grafton Public just be there, just a shoulder to cry on - they had our back," she said.
"We were all going through the same thing, we all leant on each other as much as we could."
And while her words contribute to the video, Ms Bolch said she struggled to watch it back. Her eldest daughter Kaitlynne opens the video with a matter of fact answer when asked what she thought was going to happen on the night heartbreaking.
"She was very emotional the night we evacuated, and it really hits me to see it," Ms Bolch said.
"The whole school, the parents, everyone. We can't thank them enough. It was just immense."