The ongoing Tathra bushfire inquiry has heard how embers from the fire travelled twice as far as predicted, as residents fled in the face of fast-moving flames.
Tathra resident Deborah Nave and Thompsons River Estate resident Nienke Van Doorn described to the inquiry the horrors they faced on the day before their homes were engulfed by the blaze.
Ms Van Doorn told day 12 of the inquiry she was sitting on her lounge on March 18, 2018, when confronted by flames "consuming" her carport around 3.10pm.
She told the inquiry how she and her husband ran towards their cars, going as far as putting her keys in the ignition before realising she was surrounded on both sides and above her head, by fire.
She described flames "lapping" at her car, as she left it behind, quickly jumping in her husband's vehicle before they drove through flames together.
"At the top of my driveway I looked back and my house was already in flames," she told the inquiry.
She described driving 300m through flames, before they made their way to the Tathra fire station some time before 3.30pm, where she told a volunteer firefighter the bushfire had jumped the river and was heading towards Tathra.
"She [the firefighter] swore, and said 'oh my God, it's jumped the river', and ran towards the fire station," Ms Van Doorn told the inquiry.
Ms Van Doorn told the inquiry she received no emergency warning of any kind ahead of the fire destroying her home.
She said she enacted her fire plan after concerns she had about the fire about 1.30pm. That plan involved the use of equipment including preparing two water tanks, a firefighting pump and hose, and a sprinkler system on the house.
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Ms Van Doorn said she could see smoke growing in size on the horizon, and an intense "orange glow", which she said indicated to her "a bad fire" was possibly approaching.
"At that stage there had been no warning. The electricity had gone off, we had pulled out the emergency battery operated radio and a battery operated torch," she told the inquiry.
Ms Van Doorn told the inquiry real-time information was not available, with local ABC radio broadcasting live football at the time.
She told the inquiry she remembered hearing something on her radio describing the fire as 15kms away and not a threat.
After evacuating her home, she described sitting at the Tathra surf club with a wet towel over her head, when police advised residents over a loud speaker to evacuate to Bermagui.
She said shortly after, another message told residents it was too dangerous, and the plan was to evacuate people to Bega somewhere between 4.30pm and 5pm.
She told the inquiry her home was the first to be destroyed in the blaze, and is still yet to be rebuilt.
Ms Nave told the inquiry she had been attending a multicultural festival in Cooma until midday before returning to her Bay View Dr property about 2pm.
She told the inquiry she had seen smoke after driving down Brown Mountain, and had seen the fire on the northern side of the Bega River from near Thompson Dr.
"At that stage none of us thought it was coming towards Tathra," she said. "If anything, we thought it was heading towards Tanja."
It wasn't until she saw "bush on fire" near her home that she and her family evacuated towards Mogareeka at the mouth of the Bega River, where she received an evacuation warning message on her phone.
"We should've known because of that strong wind, but we didn't know it was coming our way," she said. "We didn't have good mobile reception at the time."
She told the inquiry she did not see any firefighting trucks during her evacuation.
She said she was told later that night by a friend who had remained in Tathra that day, that her home was "totally destroyed" by the fire.
Earlier in the day Dr Simon Heemstra, manager of planning and predictive services with the NSW Rural Fire Service, told the inquiry the fire danger rating in the region on March 18, 2018, was a record for that time of year.
Dr Heemstra described how models and assumptions are used by the agency to predict fires, and described how while embers were only predicted to travel up to four kilometres, on the day they travelled as far as nine kilometres.
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Wind speed, relative humidity, temperature, topography, wind direction and vegetation type all played a part in the fire, he said, adding weather conditions drive extreme fires, like Tathra, more than forest fuel loads.
He told the inquiry the agency uses both the 1960s' McArthur fire spread model and the CSIRO's Project Vesta model for predicting where fires will likely burn.
The McArthur model can "underestimate" fires, including "mass spotting" events like the one that hit Tathra in 2018, he told the inquiry.
He said the mapping and understanding of overall fuel hazard scores, used in the Vesta model, is "still not great", and improved, faster computer modelling is needed to combat future fires.
Earlier scanning of fires by Infra-red linescan aircraft would also help better combat fires, like the fast moving 2018 blaze.
Dr Heemstra said he supports the use of the McArthur model by fire behaviour analyst David Philp on the day of the bushfire.
"Generally, for forested landscapes, the model we go to is the McArthur model," he said.
He said nine times out of 10 his manual analysts are "still beating the computer".
The inquiry heard the temperature rose from 32 degrees at 10.30am to almost 37 degrees by 12.30pm, around the time investigators believe the fire began at Reedy Swamp.
A "significant drop" in humidity by 11am, and an increase in wind speed at around midday also helped drive the fire, he said.
Dr Heemstra told the inquiry a large difference between wind and gust speeds, like was seen around midday, indicates "erratic" winds conducive to spotting.
A fire moving quickly up hill can act like a "ramp" shooting embers of fire higher into the sky, allowing them to travel further, he said.
Dr Heemstra said subsequent research reconstructing the conditions on the day in greater detail found weather phenomenons known as "mountain waves and boundary rolls" on the day, assisted the fire to spot on a large scale.
"There were a lot of things assisting mass spotting in this event," he said.
He said the speed of the fire prevented the agency's ability to predict its movements.
Dr Heemstra said conditions outside the scope of the model used meant the long-range embers that hit Tathra on the day not being predicted by the agency.
The inquiry heard the fire had likely crossed the river by 2.45pm, two hours after it began, and moved quickly via "an enormous amount of embers".
Dr Heemstra described the day as a "very dangerous situation" for firefighters surrounded by fire in all directions, with the possibility they may be trapped by embers.
"This would have escalated and occurred very quickly, and so people would have had to make decisions under very short time frames," he told the inquiry.
He told the inquiry his later calculations found the fire moved between two and three kilometres per hour, putting it outside the models abilities to predict.
"This is up there as one one of the faster fires, with one of the greater rates of spread, we've seen,"
He described his concern the fire would move "considerably" north after quickly spreading to Tathra, with wind changes difficult to predict.
Under the guidance of Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott, the three-week long inquiry will investigate the origin and cause of the fire, as well as the management of energy infrastructure, the management of fuel loads before the fire and the response of emergency services.
The fire burned through 1300 hectares of forest, causing $63.5million worth of damage, and destroying 56 homes and 35 outbuildings in and around Tathra.
The inquiry will end on August 21.