National

Two-time fires survivor feels traumatised

By AAP Newswire

Jesse Rowan is traumatised by the terrifying experience of living through bushfires - twice.

The memories of the 2003 Canberra bushfires were never far away, even after Ms Rowan and her family moved to the NSW south coast for a tree and sea change.

They built their home, on the edge of Malua Bay backing onto forest, to the recommended specifications.

But every fire season has been a time of anxiety since they moved there 13 years ago.

Seeing the approaching flames on New Year's Eve was terrifying.

"When I saw the flames come over the hill towards our house, I was just gobsmacked," Ms Rowan told AAP.

"It was really scary.

"Seeing everything in the press, you think you're going to die."

Many in Malua Bay evacuated to the beach.

Ms Rowan and her partner Terry, who have three children, stayed to defend their home and flute-making workshop underneath. They had prepared the property, equipped with three fire hoses, a 10,000-litre water tank and a petrol-driven fire pump.

Ms Rowan counts herself lucky not to have lost either home to bushfires.

But that has not lessened the impact, a reality Ms Rowan has shared with the bushfires royal commission while calling for action to address climate change.

"I and many others have been traumatised by being in bushfires, or by preparing for and living with the constant stress of the possibility of being impacted or having friends and family in the same situation for many weeks, months and fire seasons," she wrote in a submission.

"Bushfire survivors now live with the distress of knowing that people died, seeing our communities decimated, our environment devastated, animals burnt and lives ruined."

Ms Rowan was nursing a baby and celebrating her five-year-old's birthday when the Canberra fires hit their suburb in 2003.

"It was totally surreal to be in the dark sitting on the toilet breastfeeding my son, with the five-year-old holding my leg, thinking I might watch my children die.

"It was an awful experience," she said, her voice breaking.

After moving to Malua Bay, Ms Rowan joined the rural fire brigade to learn how to defend her home and community.

As the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements starts its hearings, Ms Rowan is passionate about the need for urgent action on climate change.

"To me that's the bottom line. If you don't attend to the root cause of why bushfires are getting worse then the impacts are going to be felt by far more people than even this fire season."