Residents tell of terror as fire bore down

Hannah Higgins and Luke Costin
Jo Vakaahi was stranded on her roof as she battled to save her home, while others burned down

As Jo Vakaahi stood on her roof with a hose as a ferocious bushfire barrelled towards her home, her frightened dog accidentally knocked the ladder over, leaving her trapped.

NSW battled unprecedented bushfires on Saturday, which claimed the lives of three people, and destroyed more than 150 properties.

An emergency warning was in place on Saturday for the Hillville bushfire south of Taree, which threatened a number of towns including Old Bar, Wallabi Point and South Taree.

As people evacuated from Old Bar on Friday night Ms Vakaahi stayed to defend her home.

"On Friday night I went out the back to let my dog out and there was this glow of fires coming, I just hosed down the house," she told AAP on Sunday.

"I must have dozed off on the lounge and I woke up on Saturday morning and it was right there."

With the savage bushfire just 500 metres away, Ms Vakaahi climbed up onto the roof with a hose and a wet tea towel wrapped around her head, in a desperate bid to do what she could to save her home.

"The smoke was just debilitating, really thick and black and it was hard to breathe," she said.

"It's all still and eerie, there's no birds around ... I was really scared."

It was in that moment that Ms Vakaahi's dog, in an attempt to be close to her, knocked down the ladder, leaving her stuck on the roof and faced with the possibility of having to jump down.

Fortunately, neighbours came to her rescue. After an anxious night the fire was downgraded to a watch and act alert.

"It's the tiredness that gets you, you want to sleep but you can't relax because you don't know what's going to happen," Ms Vakaahi said.

Another Old Bar resident, Kathleen Vella, fled her property for a Taree evacuation centre on Saturday morning after initially believing her home would be safe from harm.

"I didn't gather anything. I grabbed my handbag, I grabbed five kids, put 'em in the car and I just left. I could see the smoke," she told AAP on Sunday.

Her partner stayed behind to defend their property, and is sheltering a menagerie of animals he rescued from neighbour's evacuated homes.

"By the time he got out and grabbed the animals (from neighbours' properties) and was ready to head back, the road was on fire and he drove through," she said.

Her partner doesn't plan on leaving. Ms Vella said her anxiety was running high and she was feeling "pretty helpless".

"He's in a lot of danger at the moment. The fire has come up to the back perimeter of our place," she said.

At Wallabi Point, where at least one home was destroyed, school teacher Colette Eadndel spent Saturday night listening to the emergency services scanner feed.

She is concerned about how exhausted older firefighters doing 16-hour shifts would continue to battle fires on the densely forested Mid North Coast over coming days.

"It was just so heartbreaking how tired they were," she told AAP.

"We need young fit people fighting this with equipment.

"We really really need the air force and army to come because, truly, a lot of people will die."