The firefront had passed but spot fires cut off access roads, leaving Lobethal’s locals with no way out and no power or communications.
Adam Weinert, whose own home was one of 84 houses destroyed in the Adelaide Hills blaze in December, saw about three dozen people as he drove through Lobethal’s streets.
“They were in shock and they were also very frightened of the fact that they knew they couldn’t leave the town,” he told the royal commission into Australia’s unprecedented bushfires.
“They didn’t want to leave the town.
“They were overwhelmed. A lot of them were exhausted.
“We were on our own as a community.”
Mr Weinert, who had moved back to his home town in 2016 after 22 years in the army, quickly decided something needed to be done.
At an impromptu town meeting, residents were tasked with checking on neighbours and finding food and water supplies.
Daily town meetings followed, as about 60 residents divided up the jobs that needed to be done.
The spontaneous volunteer organisation included a full logistics team that took care of food, clothing and blankets, while others organised feed and water for stock.
The locals gathered together generators, which electricians took to vulnerable elderly residents to help them get through the hot days.
“We just made the best order out of the chaos we had,” Weinert said in a pre-recorded video played during the royal commission’s online ceremonial hearing on Thursday.
“That centre bridged a gap, the likes I’ve not seen nor heard of in my lifetime in a pretty special, rare, unique situation in a town that was isolated in so many ways.”
Weinert said the community’s disaster relief effort lasted for 16 days, until a South Australian government recovery centre opened in Lobethal – about 25km from Adelaide – on January 6.
Weinert, who had personal experience with the 2003 Canberra bushfires and Victoria’s Black Saturday fires in 2009, initially shared his story with the royal commissioners when they visited the Adelaide Hills in early March.
Make your contribution to independent news
A donation of any size to InDaily goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. South Australia needs more than one voice to guide it forward, and we’d truly appreciate your contribution. Please click below to donate to InDaily.