I was 9 years old. I went to Katoomba Public School, behind the Carrington. We lived in 14 Jersey Ave, facing Katoomba.
I have quite vivid memories of the 57 fires, I was nine years old when it happened and we were living in Jersey Ave, Leura. My father had a “Golden Fleece” service station on the highway opposite the Alexander Hotel. He was a mechanic there, it was under the flats.
I remember my parents asking friends in Katoomba to look after my sister and myself. Their house faced Leura so we could see the huge pine trees alight near our house. It was very, very scary. We couldn’t see our house though, because of the trees. So we didn’t know if it was safe. Mum was a seamstress. The Fire Brigade would not allow her to get to our house by going down the road so she ran through Bloom Park, at the top of Jersey Avenue. I remember she had small holes burnt in the skirt of her dress from the sparks in the park.
Business friends of dad’s from Katoomba came to remove petrol, oil and inflammables from his business to stop them from exploding as there were a lot of blackberry bushes at the rear and underneath the service station that were a great threat. Dad always remembered that his friends came to help. There was an old bakery underneath the service station but hadn’t been used for many years prior to the fires. There was a block of flats that had a corner shop on the ground floor on the corner of Highland St and the Highway. It caught fire and collapsed into a vacant block between it and my father’s business. I believe there was some newsreel footage of that, maybe in archives somewhere now.
The fire jumped the railway line. Fire was coming up from Leura Baths, near Leura Falls. The fire had been there a couple of weeks before.
After my father was sure the service station was OK and the danger there has passed, he came home to Jersey Avenue. We had a water tank on our property so dad soaked sugar bags in water and put them on the roof and in the guttering as there was very little water coming from the hose. I believe this saved our timber house. The house behind us, facing the Mall, was destroyed, so was the garage to the left of us, and part of the house to the right. The bush opposite was also destroyed.
There was a fire from Leura Baths area a few weeks prior and my mother moved an elderly lady and her treasures from across the road into our house until the danger had passed, but unfortunately she moved back into her house and it wasn’t able to be saved when the big 2 December fire came.
My father had a good friend who was the local bread deliveryman. He would deliver the bread in a motorcycle with sidecar and later in a 53 Holden panel van. He and his family lived in north Leura and lost everything they owned. My father picked up my sister and myself and when we arrived home, this friend was sitting in our kitchen very upset – I will never forget the look of despair on his face.
The Ritz pine trees were singed, but the fire missed it. The house behind us faced the Mall. That went up. My parents helped the neighbours, gave them clothes and meals.
The driveway at our house was cracked from heat, as was a window on the driveway side of the house. I went back to the house, when it was up for auction some 8 or 9 years ago, and that driveway was still cracked!
I have not mentioned names in my story but would be happy to talk to you about the people involved.