Inquiry told Badja fire cut-off family before Bumbo man's death

CAUTION: Eyewitness and expert testimony to the events that took the life of Michael Clarke in January, 2020, are unsettling. Australian Community Media urges caution for readers as this could be deeply upsetting.

A smoky afternoon in the Eurobodalla Shire during the black summer bushfires of 2019-2020. Image: File.

A smoky afternoon in the Eurobodalla Shire during the black summer bushfires of 2019-2020. Image: File.

A coronial inquiry into the 2019-2020 bushfires has heard how a beloved 59-year-old man died at his Bumbo property in the Badja Forest Fire despite his brother's efforts to reach him.

On day three of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry the hearing was told Michael 'Mick' Clarke lived alone on a property nestled in bushland at Bumbo, near Bodalla.

The Badja Forest Fire started on December 27, 2019 and burned fiercely into December 31, when lives were lost at Cobargo and Coolagolite.

The fire burned steady for some weeks before a change in weather caused a sudden and severe turn on Thursday, January 23, the day Mick died.

The court was told that in the months prior to the fire, Mick had not been well, and had recently spent time in hospital.

Mick returned to his property the day before the fire hit. His family were concerned and stayed in touch via his landline.

On January 23, a powerful westerly and forecast temperatures of 38 degrees alarmed his brother, Shane.

In the afternoon, Shane heard that the nearby town of Moruya "was on fire" and people were evacuating.

He spoke to Mick at about 2.40pm before leaving Broulee with a friend to help Mick at his property.

"It took him a fair while to answer," Shane said in a statement to police.

Shane was worried for Mick and asked what conditions were like.

Mick replied: "yeah, I think it's coming, the shed just lit up, it was a grass fire before that".

Shane asked Mick if he would be alright. Mick replied: "I think so, I have to get back out there", then ended the conversation.

That was believed to be the last time anyone spoke with Mick.

Shane went to lengths trying to contact Mick's neighbours en route to Mick's property.

Neighbouring dairy farmer Robert Eder had prepared to stay back and was putting out spot fires at his property into the afternoon.

"One minute it was raining embers and there were fires everywhere," Robert told the court.

Robert answered a call from Shane and was unaware Mick was home from hospital. Robert jumped on his quad bike to check in.

However, burning trees on the ground blocked the path.

"There was no way I was going to get up to his property," Robert said.

Shane managed to get to the Bumbo Road turnoff where he spoke with RFS, but couldn't get any further to help his brother.

Mick's property was surrounded by burning bushland.

After a few hours, conditions allowed Robert to visit Mick's property where all he saw standing was a chimney.

In the early hours of the next day, conditions were still dangerous as another neighbour went to inspect his father's property, next door to Mick's.

The neighbour said in a statement to police: "the weather conditions at the time were calm, but I knew the main fire front had passed as everything in its path had burned."

"The surroundings were apocalyptic and it looked like hell," he said.

He surveyed the damage to his father's property before walking to check on Mick's house. He saw it was burned to the ground. He later found Mick's remains.

The inquiry has been adjourned for further evidence.

This story Inquiry told Badja fire cut-off family before Bumbo man's death first appeared on Bay Post-Moruya Examiner.