Most days, the corner of Murramarang Road and Thrush Street at Bawley Point is quiet except for the chatter of birds and the occasional car.
On December 5, 2019 the streets were the hub of a desperate fight to save Bawley Point from the Currowan fire as it raced into the heart of the village.
In thick, eye-watering smoke and scorching heat, fire brigade trucks darted along Thrush Street and fought back flames as they came over a nearby hill and licked the edges of two homes.
Under apocalyptic, orange skies, sirens wailed and kangaroos burst from bushes in panic.
The bushfire ran behind the Rural Fire Service's shed on Thrush Street to Murramarang Road, the main thoroughfare in the village, threatening to jump into the blocks of houses that stood between the forest and the coast.
After Bawley Point Rural Fire Brigade captain Charlie Magnuson called for aerial support, two helicopters arrived, scooping water from the sea nearby and dumping it on the fire.
Residents waited in safety at the village's headland above the beach.
"There was a stage I thought, 'I think we're going to lose the fire shed, we'll lose half the village here', the way it came over the top of that hill," Mr Magnuson says.
It was one of the Currowan fire's first atttacks on a South Coast village last summer, foreshadowing a terrifying season that destroyed homes and wilderness throughout the region.
Bawley Point escaped the worst on December 5 last year. Twelve months later, burnt trees are the most obvious sign a fire came to Murramarang Road and nearly leapt into the houses on the opposite side.
But the fire left a less visible legacy behind.
The fire's march
Bawley Point firefighters first encountered the Currowan fire about a week before it reached their coastal homes.
They began fighting it inland, where the blaze spread after starting on November 26, 2019 with a lightning strike in dense state forest.
It pushed firefighters back repeatedly as it grew on days of high temperatures and strong westerly winds.
"Once the weather got hold of it, the westerlies, we had no chance of stopping it," Mr Magnuson says.
The fire jumped the Clyde River and, on December 2, reached the south-western border of Willinga Park equestrian centre at Bawley Point.
Murramarang National Park bordering the village was alight with flames reaching higher than the crowns of trees. Firefighters spent a long night stopping the bushfire getting into Willinga Park.
For Bawley Point residents, an orange glow sat on the horizon for days. Smoke blocked the sky from view for a week. Carl Noone, who lives near Willinga Lake, waited for the bushfire to arrive.
"And you never sleep, you think you can sleep but you just don't sleep," he says.
Brigade members describe the surreal atmosphere in the hours before the bushfire lurched into Bawley Point on December 5.
Mr Magnuson was aware the village would look to him as the brigade captain for safety as the fire hit.
"You feel a bit of weight on your shoulders," he says.
"My concern was the village. I did not want to lose anything in the village, any homes or any people."
The fire took off in the early afternoon, jumping Willinga Lake, and surging towards homes. Mr Magnuson pulled fire brigade crews back to the main roads around the urban part of Bawley Point and ordered them to protect lives and property.
Alan Swanson had driven back to the village from Melbourne the night before to protect his home on Shearwater Crescent. Wearing a breathing mask and a woollen balaclava soaked with water, he stood behind firefighters and put out spot fires in his backyard.
Even with his coverings, the heat was intense enough to hurt his face and eyes.
About 30 minutes before the fire arrived, hot air blew through Bawley Point. Two waves of animals fled from the forest, one an hour ahead of the fire, and another 15 minutes before the fire front reached Mr Swanson's home.
"It was like an old David Attenborough documentary where all these kangaroos and small marsupials came running into the windows and you knew it was coming, and you could hear it probably in the last 10 minutes, five minutes," he says.
"When it actually got here, it is like an animal, like they say. It's like this roaring sound and the wind was blowing west-north-west.
"And it would surge, and two or three of the 25 metre trees, one of them would pop, and the flame would go up that and then go maybe five or 10 metres up."
Carl Noone was with firefighters holding back the blaze as it encircled his house. About 45 minutes after it hit, flames were still 50 metres high and bark around the property was on fire.
Brigade member Lise Percival, who had joined the Rural Fire Service about 12 months before, says an eerie atmosphere descended before the fire arrived. When it came, she says a survival instinct took over.
"Your common sense kicks in, and you rely on your team that surrounds you," she says.
Flames and smoke surrounded two houses at the end of Thrush Street. Three firefighters defending one of the properties had smoke inhalation and needed treatment back at the fire shed.
The bushfire crept further along the street near the fire brigade shed, where volunteer Stewart Craig had been inside compiling updates for broadcast on social media. He moved to another shed where people inside laid wet towels at door cracks to stop smoke streaming inside.
"I was amazed at how everybody kept their cool," he says.
"I didn't have to worry about anybody being frightened or scared. They probably were, but they weren't showing it.
"This is just members of the public. And I was really amazed. And the way they were reacting, that was keeping me calm."
Firefighter crews, aerial waterbombing and a late afternoon wind change saved Bawley Point from destruction. Helicopters left the area and smoke thinned. The village did not lose a single home or life.
Even after the bushfire changed direction, firefighters jumped back into their truck and moved to its other side to keep fighting, volunteer Hendrik Boone says.
"It was impacting everywhere, just literally everywhere."
In the night, as the temperature dropped, the firefighters returned to their shed on Thrush Street and slept on the floor.
A long fight
The timing of the Currowan fire's march into Bawley Point may be one reason the village avoided destruction.
As one of the first South Coast communities under direct assault from the bushfire, Bawley Point had the benefit of outside support for its firefighting defences.
In later weeks a much larger Currowan fire, spread along the coast, was able to attack multiple communities simultaneously. The bushfire was so large it overwhelmed the resources of emergency services.
Mr Magnuson says if the fire had arrived three or four weeks later, while it hit other coastal villages, Bawley Point may have had a different outcome than on December 5.
"Having those resources, we were a very lucky village compared to the other villages later on in the fire," he says.
Even as the bushfire moved away from Bawley Point, the anxiety of the season stayed with residents.
Sue Brodie, living near the village at Termeil, could not sleep for a long time after returning to her home when the fire had passed.
She would go outside her house and see if any fires were coming.
"I still get goosebumps actually, when I think about the sound of choppers," Ms Brodie says.
"Because that's like being in a war zone. Just hearing that the whole time. That's one thing I thought I'd never ever forget."
Throughout the summer Mr Magnuson, like many Rural Fire Service members, was working when he was not fighting fires. Firefighting shifts were about 16-18 hours long.
He would begin driving home after finishing a night shift, only for his pager to go off and draw him to another emergency. His wife hardly saw him for about six weeks.
In the week the fire hit Bawley Point, Mr Magnuson barely slept, deciding he could not afford it as fire captain.
"It was exhausting not just for me but especially for my crew," he says.
Many of the Bawley Point Rural Fire Service volunteers were still new to firefighting.
The brigade kept fighting the Currowan fire through the summer, and protected properties at Bendalong and Manyana in temperatures reaching 46 degrees on January 4.
"Reasonably inexperienced people just kept going, and that would have been the same up and down the coast. People just kept throwing themselves into this fire," Mr Magnuson says.
"I admire all my crew. I think they're amazing people."
The Currowan fire ended in February after burning for 74 days across 499,621 hectares and destroying 312 homes.
The best thing I did was join the brigade, because then I feel useful.Sue Brodie
The anniversary of the bushfire, and the return of hot days, has evoked memories of the Black Summer on the South Coast. Lise Percival says they can bring up emotions.
"You start thinking of what happened and where we were and what we did, and 'I don't really want to go through that again', because you've got your family and your friends in the community," she says.
"You think that you're OK, but then something happens and it affects you a little bit more than what you actually thought."
A surge in volunteer numbers has swelled the ranks of the Bawley Point Rural Fire Brigade since the summer. Fifteen new members have joined, many of them women.
Sue Brodie is among the new volunteers. She joined in July after spending the summer frustrated she could not do more to help firefighters.
"We couldn't be here because we weren't trained. And they were thin on the ground and needed more people," she says.
"So I just thought, you know, doesn't matter if it's here or up north or wherever. Next time, I just want to be able to help out.
"The best thing I did was join the brigade, because then I feel useful."
COVID-19 has stopped Bawley Point residents from coming together much throughout the year to talk about the summer.
When they were able to get together, Mr Magnuson told brigade members to be proud of their work.
His message to them was: "You can never forget this, going forward. You've been a part of something huge, and you've made a huge difference in people's lives and their homes."
Mr Magnuson says this is true for fire brigades up and down the South Coast, and NSW.
"They all should hold their heads high. Although mother nature ended up putting the fire out, I'm surprised we didn't lose a lot more lives and a lot more homes," he says.
"If you talk to most people who were on the fire line you'll get the same answer there.
"It was a great job by all the firefighters who were out there, saving as many homes and lives as they could."