IF bushfire records are set by the loss of human life then the "one for the record books'' was set years ago.
But if the yardstick is the loss of property then the fire storm of late December is unmatched in Greater Lithgow.
And so the pre Christmas week of 2019 will be long remembered for all the wrong reasons.
In more than five decades of reporting natural and man made disasters for the Lithgow Mercury neither I nor my former associates can recall a home being lost to a bushfire in the Lithgow Local Government Area.
This time around the best estimates from a still confused fireground place the toll as high as 30, most of them in the bushland hill top estates around Clarence and Dargan.
But there were Christmas miracles in survival and homes saved wrought by firefighters, perhaps with a divine hand from above.
Most bushfires are more or less predictable in the direction they take.
Not this time.
The so called Gospers Mountain megablaze in the Wollemi was ignited by dry lightning back in October and for once the hackneyed description of tinder dry bushland really was there to feed this monster.
After a path of devastation around the Hawkesbury it came back our way, firstly threatening homes around Wallerawang and Lidsdale forcing the evacuation of all but essential staff from Mt Piper power station.
The luxury Emirates resort in the Wolgan Valley evacuated guests and closed for the duration (as did the seriously threatened Jenolan Caves but that was an unrelated fire).
The fire had moved onto the Newnes Plateau creating a potential crisis for Clarence Colliery and just across the ridge at Springvale.
Bulldozers were brought in to protect the mines, our biggest employers, with fire breaks.
But came Friday, just five days short of Christmas when the fire finally descended into the valley at Oakey Park, forcing an evacuation of residents then cutting the railway line and surging up the Scenic Hill.
One home at Corneytown was damaged but bushland was incinerated, revealing at Ida Falls the foundations of a pioneering family cottage and a sandstone tunnel beneath the railway that had been lost to sight for decades.
Worse was to come.
Mid morning Saturday the fire crept over the mountain behind McKellars Park and Cobar Park then quickly became a holocaust.
One home was soon lost in Crane Road and another in Gell Street but the drama rapidly escalated mid afternoon when a brisk westerly blew in with the all too familiar pattern of embers spreading the blaze from hill top to hill top.
Embers were repeatedly igniting dry grass on the old Hermitage mine site and along Farmers Creek.
Quickly the entire mountainside was blazing all the way along Sandford Avenue and Macaulay Street and into Mort Estate and, again, Oakey Park.
The roar of the fire was described as like 'half a dozen jet aircraft taking off at once'.
One home was lost in Macaulay Street after embers ignited a pine tree, causing blazing debris to fall onto the roof.
Police were busy ordering out residents reluctant to leave.
But again those miracles, all too evident in the wake of the fire with 'napalmed' bushland literally to the back fences of homes.
Worse was to come as the wind driven blaze again ripped over the Scenic Hill, detouring around the mountains to Hartley Valley Road, and into the rural residential retreats of Clarence, Dargan and Bell.
On the way there was another heartbreaking impact on the Zig Railway, still struggling to recover from the devastation of the 2013 fire.
Replaceable infrastructure was lost but this time irreplaceable buildings and rolling stock were saved.
As the fire swept on to Clarence Steve Douglas thought he was well prepared. A retired professional firefighter he had been commander at Lithgow's Cook Street station and had pumps and water. But this approaching beast was quite something else and Steve realised it was time to cut and run.
Steve lost his home. So did around seven of his neighbours.
By now reinforcements, both Rural Fire Service and NSW Fire and Rescue, and water bombing helicopters had poured into Lithgow from wherever they could be spared across NSW.
Among them one well known firefighting ex Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and a contingent from Canada both on the ground and piloting helicopters.
There were bizarre scenes of desperation with helicopters drawing water from Lake Pillans while the surrounding wetlands was burning - including the landmark boardwalk.
A number of ambulance units were also moved to Lithgow to 'take care' of firefighters during our crisis.
The fires moved on from Lithgow almost as quickly as they came, creating another crisis for a time around Hartley Vale then into the Grose Valley for a new threat to Blue Mountains towns.
On the other side of the fireground the fire was burning beyond Christmas to threaten the Bylong Valley and Capertee Valley.
Burnt gum leaves continued to turn up in gardens all over the district for days afterwards, keeping thousands of people on tenterhooks.
The drama didn't end with fire; water was also a critical issue.
Firefighters had already scrambled to save the city's water treatment plant surrounded by fire at Oakey Park.
But on Christmas Eve Lithgow's water supply failed after a burst feeder main drained the main hillside reservoir.
There was a rush for bottled water in supermarkets and NSW Fire and Rescue rushed giant water tankers to Lithgow .
In record heatwave conditions and no rain the danger is far from over.
But for many counting both their losses and their blessings at Christmas, John Williamson's lyrical praise for a 'home among the gum trees' was ringing just a little hollow.
FOOTNOTE: The Lithgow district is no stranger to major bushfires and heroism by firefighters.
Surely our worst fires were the 1998 inferno that overran and killed two experienced RFS captains on Scotsmans Hill, and RFS volunteers killed by falling trees prior to that at Hartley and Palmers Oakey.
The 1998 fire was not stopped until it reached the Colo River.
Then in October 2013 a badly timed explosives training exercise at Marrangaroo Army Camp wreaked havoc around Lithgow, destroying a factory building in Bells Road and setting the operations at Zig Zag Railway back by years with a heavy loss of rolling stock.
Defence admitted liability for that one; now it's the weather gods to blame.