Spared from the flames

Kurt Mahlburg has pulled together a summary of remarkable ‘deliverance” stories from the fierce bushfires. But as with Dorothea Mackellar’s “Sunburnt Country”, there is terror as well as beauty here in the wide brown and now blackened land.

The terror  of death, injury, property loss – or the fear of them. The beauty of rescue, perhaps divine rescue  – or the helicopter that dumped water, or the fireys at the bottom of the street.

It’s been estimated that half of Australians have a direct connection to the bushfires. People died: One was a high school teacher of mine, and another was connected through friends. People got injured: an ex-neighbour of mine had a heart attack in the middle of the street, as he and his wife evacuated. Property damage: the fires came to within 20 metres of some friend’s house.

Those were my most direct connections. So while Eternity acknowledges the “beauty” of what and who was saved, we also can’t lose sight of the “terror“ of these ongoing fires. John Sandeman, Eternity Editor

An unusual outbreak

The fires that have torn through the Australian landscape in recent weeks are without doubt the most widespread natural disaster in our nation’s living memory. Fellow Australians are hurting as they grieve the loss of properties, livelihoods and loved ones.

Yet in the flames and through the smoke, there is hope. The generosity of friends and strangers, the Australian spirit of mateship, and the reminder of what’s truly precious in life all speak to the presence of God in the midst of tragedy.

Stories of supernatural survival have emerged across Australia since the fires began and you can read below about some of them.

One disclaimer before you read on: there is no hidden message of either judgment or favouritism in these stories. The Good Book tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). We may never know why some people lost it all and others were protected. But we know that those who have suffered need our care and support.

With that being said, at the dawn of this new decade, there has been an unusual outbreak of supernatural activity right here in Australia. Kurt Mahlburg

A stranger saves a family from a firestorm

Andrew, Lake Conjola, New South Wales

Andrew, a father of four, explained on Sydney radio station Hope 103.2 that he and his sister’s families were rescued by boat at the last minute by a complete stranger.

Camping at Lake Conjola, on New Year’s Eve, they had been told of approaching fires up to 100 kilometres away. They thought winds would change long before the fires were anywhere near them.

At 11.59am, they were shocked to see the glow of flames on nearby hilltops. In less than ten minutes, fire enveloped them on all sides.

At that moment, Andrew remembers “a boat pulled up in front of us… [a man] was just yelling to us, ‘run to the jetty, run to the jetty.’ So we ran to the jetty and jumped in his boat and he took off.”

Escaping across the lake, they turned around at 12.09pm to see their cars and caravan burning. Brett, the man who rescued them, had fled by boat with his dad, having just watched his own house burn down minutes earlier.

Half-finished house spared in “unexplained protected zone”

Hazel, Kangaroo Valley, NSW

I just got off the phone to Hazel. Hazel’s daughter owns property on a knoll amongst the scrub, near Kangaroo Valley in NSW’s Shoalhaven region. Her daughter had been building a new home, but the project had recently stalled due to the fire threat.

When that threat turned to red-hot reality on January 4, Hazel’s daughter and her young family fled to save their lives. They expected to return to an ash heap.

As Hazel explained to me, a local church had gathered at the same time to pray for everyone in the area. A friend of Hazel’s daughter received a vision of angels dressed as fire-fighters, spraying water in the shape of a large dome to protect her half-finished house.

Because of her property’s remote location, the RFS were unable to defend it from the ground or air.

Days later, when firefighters were finally able to access the house, it took them ten hours to hack through fallen trees. What they discovered was ash-covered soil still too hot to stand on, “like being on the rim of a volcano”, and burnt-out trees all around.

But the house with its timber-framed roof was not even singed, and the plastic tank was still fully intact. A local who helped the fireys at the property described an “unexplained protected zone” all around the house.

There doesn’t seem to be a natural explanation for these events, but Hazel and her daughter don’t hesitate in giving God the credit.

Prayer shifts the winds in Mallacoota

David, Mallacoota, Victoria

For a few hours, David became the face of Australia around the world when international media shared his self-filmed account of a miraculous escape.

On New Year’s Eve, in the coastal hamlet of Mallacoota in East Gippsland, the firewall drew close. Along with many locals, 4000 locals were forced to flee to the town’s wharf.

As David told Eternity, they all found themselves trapped on the shore: “We could hear the roar. It was like a monster bearing down on us… It went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.”

Knowing that the only hope of survival would be a strong east wind pushing against the approaching fire, David gathered with two other “prayer warriors” to ask God for a miracle.

As soon as they began praying, he says, the wind “started blowing from the east a little bit … I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger [the wind got]. I was yelling, ‘In Jesus’ name, thank you Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!’”

For five minutes the easterly blew, breaking the fire-front enough to stop it from reaching the foreshore. “God saved us” is how David’s neighbours — who are not Christians — described the event.

The fire stopped at the foot of a large cross

Lorelle, Cobargo, NSW

Soon after fires ripped through Cobargo on the NSW South Coast, Vision Radio received a call from Lorelle. She gave an eye-opening description of what happened to her good friends.

The couple decided to stay and defend their home but, in the middle of the night, the noise of the approaching fires grew so terrifying they were forced to flee.

Two days later, they returned, expecting to find everything gone. To their surprise, the fires had stopped at the foot of a wooden cross, leaning up against the shed. It’s a cross that they carry down the main street of Cobargo on Good Friday to commemorate the death of Jesus.

On reaching the cross, the fire had evidently burnt around the shed and right up to the edge of the house, singing only a bit of grass and garden. When they fled, the couple had left the sprinklers going on the house but provided no protection for the shed.

It was like he had a dome over his house

Michael, Wingello, NSW

Michael is a volunteer firefighter from the little town of Wingello, located halfway between Sydney and Canberra.

A fire had been burning for weeks in adjacent national parks. “It was like a sleeping giant,” says Michael. But the giant awoke on January 4 when an enormous pyrocumulus cloud, caused by the park blazes, began raining fire on nearby scrub.

Michael was posted with a crew protecting the local fire station, while his wife Helen and other family fled their property. After a long and anxious wait, fellow firefighters who had been out protecting properties returned to the station at 1am with harrowing news for Michael. “We’re so sorry. We tried to save your house but it’s gone.”

The next morning another patrol passed Michael’s property and were “gobsmacked” to find his house was, in fact, still standing. As Michael and Helen returned, a battle-hardened firey remarked, “You guys must have some Jesus juice. I need some of that.”

“We are people of faith,” Michael explained to me over the phone. “We’ve had our house blessed, and we’ve always tried to live a good prayer life. We really believe we’ve been spared. We credit our Lord for this miracle.”

My neighbour arrived just in time to save my house

Ainsley, Cudlee Creek, South Australia

Cudlee Creek is ten minutes from where I grew up, in a steep and gully-carved nook of the Adelaide Hills. I heard of Ainsley’s story through her fiancé, who I personally know.

Ainsley’s neighbour Eric was in Melbourne for short-term work. Exhausted, he couldn’t bring himself to drive the eight hours back home as he’d planned.

For some unexplained reason, Eric felt he should set his alarm for 4am the next morning to drive home.

He arrived home in Cudlee Creek just after the fires had broken out on the afternoon of December 20 – and his mode of transport was a water truck with a full 6000 litre tank and power hose!

He arrived at Ainsley’s property as it caught alight. He fought the blaze and managed to save her house along with another neighbour’s property, as he also protected his own home, wife and four kids.

Eric is unquestionably one of Australia’s many great heroes of these last months. But he’ll be the first to admit he had divine help.

Fires burnt right up to our fence lines
Donna, Mount Torrens, SA

Just down the road from Cudlee Creek, good friends of mine own a small hobby farm at Mount Torrens.

Donna and her husband and daughter fled their property soon after seeing smoke billowing on the horizon. They were forced to leave behind pets and livestock. Donna recounts, “As we drove out of our driveway on the day of the fire we prayed for angels to protect the borders.”

“We stayed away in the city until the next day. As I woke the next morning, the very first thought I had in that sleepy place of not quite even knowing where you are, was this: ‘The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them’.” Donna knew this was a verse from the Bible but had to look it up – Psalm 34:7.

When they returned the next afternoon, they were surprised to find fires had burnt right up to their fence lines. There were small exceptions to this but the neatness of the burn lines is what make’s Donna’s story so impressive.

In an effort to track down similar stories, I posted Donna’s photo to my timeline. It was met with many incredulous comments from strangers, such as this one: “A fire doesn’t advance perfectly straight like that … Something has intervened … ”

The paddocks in question are hard to access, Donna explains. They would be a highly unusual and near-impossible site for a CFS back-burn operation, especially in such a fierce fire.

But something — or someone — must have intervened.

There is still so much that is unexplained

As I compiled these stories, so many more miracles were told to me. But I don’t dare make judgments on behalf of God in the midst of such tragedy.

There is so much still unexplained, when some lost everything, and others were miraculously spared.

But through the smoke, God is trying to get our attention. “For God so loved the world.” It’s a verse we all know.

And God loves Australia, this “Great Southland of the Holy Spirit”. And he is calling our nation back to himself, waiting for us to respond.

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