FIRE FURY: 'One of my friends hid in her car with her baby'
SHE is a former Jacaranda queen of Grafton city, whose purple blooms are still encasing the town's streets.
But for Cerene Lowe, her heart lies in Wytaliba, a small community on Old Grafton Road and the Mann River, 60km east of Glen Innes.
She was born in a house that her mother built by hand, and now that house is now completely destroyed.
Bushfires raced through the small community on Friday night, leaving two people dead, and more than two-thirds of the property destroyed.
Much of Ms Lowe's family still live in the community, and she said that very little had been left untouched by the inferno.
"All the infrastructure, the water pipeline, the school, the bridge into town, it's all gone," she said.
Ms Lowe was at an event in Brisbane when she got the phone call.
"My aunty had been evacuated and her house had been lost," she said.
"They were evacuated to Jackadgery and then yesterday got evacuated to Grafton.
"There was no warning, everyone was inside doing normal things and then there was a wall of fire and smoke."
Ms Lowe is still unable to reach the village, with all communication and roads cut-off, but the descriptions she has had of the scenes are those of a horror movie.
"People were hiding under wet blankets in their yards and running through the firestorm to the cricket oval where all the trees around are just burning," she said.
"One of my friends hid in her car with her baby watching everything burn.
"It's just so hard. I'm so grateful my family are still here. The two lives that are lost, I'm just heartbroken that they're gone. They loved their community, and they fought for it, and we need to remember them and fight for it now."
Ms Lowe said there were still some people cut off in the community, and those that had left had to leave behind family pets and other animals.
She said her family was still waiting to find out the full extent of the damage to their property, and it was a matter of watching and waiting until they could return.
"My dad has been in the community since the beginning. I came to Grafton from year two, but I came back every weekend until I graduated high school," Ms Lowe said.
"It's like a big family. For some people, it's all they've ever known.
"We're going to stick together, and with houses still there, everyone will stay on in the community and rebuild together."
Ms Lowe said she wanted to say how thankful she was of the fire fighters who fought beside the people of Wytaliba.
"To the police, ambulance and hospitals, and to all the people who have given their support locally and everyone in the wider community thank you for your generosity and kind words." she said.
"Thank you to everyone at home for your acts of bravery and your continued strength."
Ms Lowe had already started a Gofundme site at https://www.gofundme.com/f/wytaliba-community-bushfire, and had already raised more than $15,000 to go back into rebuilding infrastructure, getting water pipes fixes, pumps, generators and paying for the funerals.
"It's all I can do. We can't get back there, but we'll see what happens," she said.
"I'm glad that my family is safe. You can rebuild the houses, but you can't rebuild that life."
Fire crew's emotional tale of Wytaliba fire
The Reddestone Rural Fire Brigade were one of only three tankers that made it into the village of Wytaliba on Friday night, having to make several attempts due to collapsed bridges and poor conditions.
They posted this emotional recount of the night, not only describing the horror of what they saw, but the community spirit that shone through even through such devastation.
Read the post here: