FIRE VICTIM: 'If I don't smile, I won't stop crying'
DEEPWATER resident of 14 years Donna Slaven might have a smile on her face, but it's hiding a great deal of pain.
"I'm probably smiling because if I start crying it won't stop," Ms Slaven said.
Ms Slaven was ordered to leave her Pacific Drive residence on Sunday and has been staying with friends in Oyster Creek nearby.
While they are now preparing to defend the Oyster Creek home, she said she was still trying not to think about the heartbreaking things she had to leave behind.
The graphic artist packed her home business and pets into the car but said it wasn't until after that she thought about the sentimental things she didn't pack.
"At the time you're thinking practical things like the tent, food, water, but in hindsight you think, that was just a kids' toy but to her it was everything," Ms Slaven said.
"Animals are definitely a priority, but a lot of us had to let sheep and pigs go.
"You want to look after your pets but there's just no way you can get two pigs and two sheep into the car with you as well... so you just have to focus on what you could save and try not to think about what they might have had to go through."
Ms Slaven, her two dogs Crystal and Beavis and baby red wing parrot Tealina, named by her seven-year-old daughter, were on their way to pick up a friend from the rescue centre in Miriam Vale.
She said she didn't realise how bad the fire was until they were out.
"We've seen photos of our neighbour's place and it looks like a nuclear bomb has gone off," she said.
"We got ordered out of there on Sunday, and it got pretty hairy.
"Even though the fire wasn't near us the smoke was almost impossible to see through and drive through.
"People might think they have an escape plan but as soon as they hit the smoke it's almost impossible to see.
"We've learnt by experience where we left it to the last minute and driving down Pacific Drive it was just completely thick.
"If we had have kept it any longer we wouldn't have been able to get out because of the smoke."
Ms Slaven lives in an area where the locals are like family, and she has no doubt they will overcome this natural disaster together, just like many times before.
"We've pulled through floods and personal tragedies, and everyone's always there for each other," she said.
"You know you're never alone in this community, no matter what happens we'll always be there for each other. It's part of the adventure."