'Ferocious firestorm' claimed Robert and Patrick Salway, coronial inquiry told

Robert and Patrick Salway who were killed defending their Wandella property from the Badja Forest Road fire. Picture: Facebook.

Robert and Patrick Salway who were killed defending their Wandella property from the Badja Forest Road fire. Picture: Facebook.

WARNING: Eyewitness and expert testimony to the events that took the lives of Robert and Patrick Salway in December of 2019 are very unsettling.

A coronial inquest to the deadly Badja Forest Road fire has heard of the bravery of Robert and Patrick Salway who lost their lives during a 'ferocious firestorm' on the morning of December 31, 2019.

A statement in Robert's wife Janelle Salway's own words was presented to the coronial court on Tuesday as part of ongoing hearings into Black Summer bushfires.

The father and son tragically lost their lives while trying to defend their Wandella farm on the NSW Far South Coast in the wake of what experts said was a firestorm trailing the main fire front.

"Robert and I knew there was a fire in the vicinity of our property to the west, however we felt we were in a good position to deal with any fires as our property is mostly cleared and very dry with little grass," Janelle's statement was read out in the hearing.

"We felt we could deal with any spot fires easily."

Patrick's wife Renee had taken their young son Harley to her mother's in Mystery Bay during the night and it was following a phone call around 3.30am that Harley would not settle Patrick urged his wife to head back to Mystery Bay and stay with Harley and her mother.

Patrick and his father Robert had already worked long into the night preparing their property and helping 'several friends and neighbours to prepare' the court heard.

Robert and Patrick had moved cattle and taken dogs and horses to the Cobargo Showground for shelter before returning home to battle spot fires.

However, around 7.30am after battling spot fires, the father and son were killed by what experts described as a 'ferocious firestorm' with cyclonic winds that had uprooted trees, ripped a family shed from it's footings and hurled cars as far as 500metres.

"I started the motorbike and started to drive around the property ... I could feel the heat, the heat was so intense and everything went dark. Due to the heat I just floored it and drove to the machinery shed area, I could feel the blue metal hitting me, the small stones were very hot and I could feel them burning my skin," Janelle's words were read out.

She described seeing pine trees alight at the back of the shed and thinking she must alert Robert and Patrick.

On her arrival back at the house Janelle stopped to extinguish a fire on the front steps before renewing efforts to find her husband and son.

"It was very dark. I shouted out "Robert where are you?

"I heard Robert say 'Patrick, Patrick, in a faint voice'.

"It was still dark and I thought due to Robert's faint voice he was talking to Patrick in the garage on the western side of the house."

Family and friends at a funeral ceremony held for Robert and Patrick Salway in Cobargo in 2020.

Family and friends at a funeral ceremony held for Robert and Patrick Salway in Cobargo in 2020.

Back on the bike she found the roller doors on the ground and the eastern side of the shed ripped up and wrapped around the water tank with debris scattered 30 metres and more around the shed.

"I thought to myself 'where are they?', I heard Robert say again 'Patrick, Patrick', I was walking back to the farmhouse and I was yelling 'where are you!?'."

She describes coming around the house and seeing the tractor ablaze thinking Robert and Patrick must have come back to the house for shelter.

However, she described having to return to the paddocks where she found her husband and son deceased.

An account from Aaron Salway described a phone call from his Mum where she said "I found them, they're gone".

Aaron was the first to arrive and took Janelle back to his Cobargo property where they waited for police, telling them "It looked like a tornado had gone through the place."

The NSW Bushfires Coronial Inquiry continues all this week.

If this article has raised concerns for you, help is always available:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
  • Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
This story 'Ferocious firestorm' claimed father and son, coronial inquiry told first appeared on Bega District News.