Bellangry residents Darren and Julie Sage find positives out of devastating bushfire

Out of the fires: Darren Sage says he remains focused on looking forward after losing the family home in a bushfire.
Out of the fires: Darren Sage says he remains focused on looking forward after losing the family home in a bushfire.

When Bellangry couple Darren and Julie Sage's home was destroyed by a devastating bushfire in November last year, they lost more than the buildings on their 45 acre property.

The speed of the fire meant the threat was imminent and they were forced to flee with just a handful of clothes.

What was left behind - the real memories of a life together - were lost forever including photographs of their children's growth and triumphs over the years.

And then there were the very personal items: Darren lost his dad at an early age but kept his wedding ring which he wore when he married Julie. That was also gone.

It could have been crushing for the family.

But Darren says he didn't want to dwell on the losses. "I wanted to put my efforts and energy into getting things happening," he said.

"Like most blokes I do dwell on stuff late at night but I try to remain determined on going forward.

"That's the way I've operated all my life.

"We are a little excited about getting the new home built but there is a price to be had for getting that.

"It's the little things that you pay the price."

Fire on the ridge: Darren Sage says the bushfire moved quickly across their property.

Fire on the ridge: Darren Sage says the bushfire moved quickly across their property.

The loss of their home remains a tough pill to swallow, given that Darren had several times attempted to put in place a cold burn to remove built-up fuel in the gully at the front of the property.

While he doesn't want to dwell on that aspect of the bushfire, he has been invited to provide his feedback and experience to the federal government's bushfire inquiry.

He holds strong views about how the bushfire was handled and the lack of communication or information that was available to residents.

"The day of the fire - November 8 - I had just flown back from RPA where I'd undergone serious stomach surgery," Darren said.

"At about 6.30pm Julie said that the place (the surrounding property) was on fire. I went out to have a look over on the ridge and there were these 40 foot flames.

"There had been a warning on the app for the bottom of Comboyne which is about 50 kilometres away. It gave us a false sense of security.

"There was no fire warning for our area. I know everyone was busy but no-one knew the fire was even in our area."

By 10.30 that night the couple received a call giving them the bad news: their property, along with at least three neighbours' properties, had been destroyed.

Not much left: The Sages lost their home in the November 8, 2019 bushfire.

Not much left: The Sages lost their home in the November 8, 2019 bushfire.

The next day, while the couple were sifting through the remains of their home, Darren contacted their insurance company.

"I wasn't going to sit and wait. I wanted to get moving," he said.

Despite the shock and emotional toll the loss of their home was having, the next few steps helped restore some belief for the couple.

"NRMA was outstanding. Within five or six weeks we had agreed on a value, been paid out and were placed into accommodation as part of our insurance.

"I then took out an owners builders licence and started the process of the rebuild.

"Port Macquarie-Hastings Council has been fair dinkum unreal. Warren Wisemantle who works at the Wauchope office was outstanding and he recognised my frustration and the urgency in me to get this started."

Darren's next move - to find a contractor for the build - would be even more critical.

"I've got some great help," Darren says. "Once I found the right people - and leading that was Benny Bruen from Bruen Family Homes - it became a really positive experience.

"Ben came straight out and had a look. He was just really genuine and wanted to help me out.

"He walked me through everything that needed to happen and guided me in the process.

"He's got a bunch of blokes involved that obviously have the same high work ethic Ben has.

"I didn't think there were many good people left out there. But the number of people who came around us was wonderful.

"You do find your true friends and even people who didn't think were friends at times like this."

Lost: Darren and Julie Sage lost virtually everything in the blaze.

Lost: Darren and Julie Sage lost virtually everything in the blaze.

Darren says he understands it can be a bad thing to dwell on the past. "But we are okay," he says.

Ben said he recognised Darren's urgency and wanted to help.

"I'm a dad of three and try to lead by example for my kids," he said.

"And while you see people on the news doing it tough, we have plenty of people in need of help right in our own backyard.

"I just reckon if you see someone doing it tough, you lend them a hand. That's what a community should be about.

"That's why I wanted to help Darren."

And Ben backs up his philosophy by each year completing a charity renovation through his business for someone in need.

Darren and Julie's home rebuild is likely to be completed by early December which coincides with the end of the 12-month insurance accommodation.

Also making news:

Thank you for valuing local journalism with your subscription. While you're with us, you can also receive updates straight to your inbox from the Port Macquarie News. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, sign up here.