THEY could do little except hope for the best as the most devastating firestorm in a decade ripped through the outskirts of Coonabarabran on Sunday.
Three days later, they began returning to their properties, only to realise those hopes had been dashed.
Dawn Keirle was just one Timor Road resident whose home was destroyed by fire - but her story was heart-wrenchingly similar for dozens of locals, and many more who have yet to learn the fate of their livelihoods.
The extent of the Warrumbungle National Park fires began to be revealed on Tuesday as authorities warned they remained on high alert.
By 7pm on Tuesday, the Rural Fire Service said 40 homes had been destroyed in the Coonabarabran fire along with 110 outbuildings.
Conditions are due to deteriorate again by Friday, with winds exceeding 40 to 50 km/h and higher temperatures pushing danger ratings across the state to very high and severe.
The Rural Fire Services Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said firefighters were ''throwing absolutely everything'' at the fire front to try to get the upper hand.
''We need to be prepared for the very real potential that this fire … will certainly get up and run again,'' he said.
About 155 firefighters from greater Sydney, the Hunter region and other parts of the north coast arrived in the area on Tuesday to relieve firefighters, many of whom have been working for 36 hours straight.
Local volunteers in Coonabarabran are also working overtime to provide food and shelter to the hundreds of emergency personnel deployed to the town.
At the town's shire hall, volunteers are producing hundreds of meals every day, with some working from the early hours until well past midnight.
Anna Tenne is a resident and has taken the week off work to volunteer. ''Everyone's happy to be making the effort,'' she said. ''The locals are donating their time and skills wherever they can.''
Di Wood produced more than 500 banana muffins on Tuesday with a small team of helpers, while Tim and Emma Schmidt have been providing free morning and afternoon tea for victims out of their cafe, The Copper Pot.
Local masseuse Simone Schmidt has been giving free massages for weary fire fighters.
''We'll be here helping as long as they need us,'' said Ms Tenne. A Facebook page has been created to encourage locals to donate food, bedding and clothing after the local branch of St Vincent de Paul ran out of room to store donations, with more than 1500 residents in surrounding communities already pledging to give where they can.
Samantha Hoffman has been handling donations in Coonabarabran, and says she's overwhelmed by the generosity, with some donations coming from as far as Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.
''As a close community, people band together in times of need. It's all we can do to get those people back on their feet.'' The Coonabarabran bowling club was open for breakfast, feeding up to 21 people who have been evacuated.
Correction: The original version of this story said the fire ripped through the town of Coonabarabran.