"See, you can think about it, but until you actually live it, you can't imagine it."
Susan Alexander lost her Dargan home of 17 years in the Gospers Mountain bushfire a little over six months ago.
"And is it still raw six months later? Absolutely," she said.
Ms Alexander said they were cranky, upset, disillusioned and living day by day not knowing what the Council or RFS would say to them next.
In December 2019 Ms Alexander's husband, Nick, the captain of the Clarence/Dargan RFS brigade was out fighting the fires somewhere between 12 and 18 hours a day.
"The fire was starting to creep, like we knew it was going to come but we actually thought it would be like 2013, that it would be defendable at the ground level," she said.
Just in case, the couple evacuated their horses and animals to a friend's property.
"Each morning, Nick would come home and just say, 'we're okay, it's all good', when he came home on the Thursday - and this is probably a difficult one because the RFS didn't put out anything - Nick told me that it was time for me to take the dogs and the cats and our daughter and just take ourselves out," she said.
Ms Alexander rang her 79-year-old neighbour and said there was no official warning but Nick has told them to leave, so her neighbour followed suit.
Ms Alexander next heard from Nick on Thursday, December 19 saying that the fire had taken out the mobile tower so he might not have phone coverage.
"I didn't hear back from Nick till about 10 o'clock on Friday night and then 3pm on Saturday, I didn't know where he was or what was going on," she said.
When Nick could finally make contact with his family, he unfortunately didn't have good news.
"When he finally rang me, he said it's gone through Clarence and he couldn't get home. He said 'it's not defendable, we're just in the fire shed just trying to keep it off here'.
"Nick told me months later, he'd gone back to go home and he got to the end of Valley View road, a fireball came up the street.
"He said it had all gone."
When you lose everything, what happens next?:
Ms Alexander said when her husband rang she did lots of crying.
"The hardest thing and there's been lots of them, but to have to tell a 14 year old daughter that her home was destroyed. It was just heartbreaking," she said.
"Like I knew we were all safe. I knew all our animals were safe, but our home that we love was gone."
It was just a home and lots of other people have them but for Ms Alexander it was everything.
Seeing memories of her home on Facebook has also been hard.
"Like the other day I was talking to someone about this chest we had, like an old silver trunk, anyway, we kept blankets in there and I had about half a dozen of my daughter's baby clothes that I had saved," she said.
"I didn't hoard a lot, but I just thought I'd you know, keep these special things. And then I said to Nick, I said, the blanket we bought Jessica home in, the blanket I came home in...I don't have that anymore."
Ms Alexander said that it has been hard listening to people say that she must be excited to get a new home.
"It's not my home, it's a new house and I never wanted to build a house, not in my life and now I have no choice," she said.
"I'm not materialistic, but at the centre of the house we had the dining table that was made by my father in law...Nick's dad has passed away. I can't get that back and that was handmade for us.
"I can go and buy another table tomorrow. Yeah, I can't replace that. I will never replace that."
A broken community:
Ms Alexander's husband Nick and his crew saved hundreds of houses in the weeks leading up to the Saturday, December 21 catastrophe.
"Three of the active members lost their homes, six members in total and they had done nothing wrong, imagine living with that, because it is human nature to say I didn't do enough," she said.
"I see what my husband is going through now, and I see how broken they all are, this community is broken.
"When you hear people saying to you that maybe it is just better if they aren't here anymore, and it's like no you can't give in to it."
Ms Alexander said the mental health of the community was really bad.
"People are just trying to get on with it, but I know myself, my husband and my daughter are going to see someone, and I am a really strong person normally and this has just floored me," she said.
Ms Alexander said she was confused as to why there were a kilometre of trucks waiting at Mt Victoria during the fire.
"Why weren't they brought down to Scenic Hill?" she said.
"We all knew from 2013 that that was the corridor. Fire was never going to act the way it was, you know, they were adamant that it wasn't going to get down in that corridor, but it did.
"I get I get that there's more houses there. I get that it needed to be protected. But what about the Clarence/Dargan community?
"No-one cares about it. I mean, Dargan doesn't even have Lithgow's postcode and the Council never do anything. Like we take the rates, we never get anything done and for the most part of it, you know what, that's okay. Just leave us out of it."
Hard work getting the help they needed:
Ms Alexander and her husband are currently going through council and are following all the rules and regulations to clear and build their new house.
"Insurance with NRMA was sensational. I haven't had issues, they paid us out and almost within a month it was all done," she said.
"We didn't have any problems with the insurance company trying to get the block cleared.
"What was hard work, you know, was trying to work with the Council to get the ADF in.
"It's like, just help the people and then when the help came out, they only took down dangerous trees. Don't you think the people actually need a little bit more help?"
Ms Alexander said she was just "so cranky with the RFS, the lack of resources and the lack of support from National Parks".
"They just let bloody Gospers mountain fire go, they didn't get on it straight away and they let it burn and burn and then spending, you know, all these helicopter trips to keep the Wollemi pine going, where were the helicopters with water on Scenic Hill, where was that?" she said.
Ms Alexander said she believed the activation centre wasn't fully activated in Lithgow.
"I know people that were in the Katoomba one but the Lithgow one wasn't, you know, people out of town didn't know Lithgow was burning and we still would have lost houses, it really was an unprecedented fire, but had there been water on it what it does is it cools it gets it down so they can fight it at the ground level, but they couldn't they couldn't fight it at the ground level."
Ms Alexander said that if the government hasn't learned anything from this then we were all "screwed".
"You know, shouldn't speak ill of Shane Fitzsimmons because everyone thinks he did a great job. Well know what all the lead up, all the years ahead, get your bureaucracy, get your head out of your asses.
"Get things burnt do it properly, so that it's it's not there and we're homeowners aren't blamed for doing the wrong thing."
Moving forward one day at a time:
Ms Alexander said that council had done nothing to control the back or on the street verges.
"I mean, we're lucky you actually even know where we are, the only reason you know where we are is you take our rates, you don't care that our postcode is not your postcode," she said.
"Let's not care about those little folk out there that have got the wrong postcode. I mean, even the RFS, and some of the warnings that came through Dargan wasn't even on it. Because they consider 'oh well if Clarence is there Dargan should know', really you actually think that?
"We had a friend of ours make up a sticker that used to say, I love Dargan because no one knows where it is."
Ms Alexander said she had great respect for Andrew Gee.
"What Andrew did for his community... I don't even know what he really stands for in the scheme of things but what I saw was him talking with my neighbours, him taking responsibility for people in his electorate, and I know that he's been working hard," she said.
"I think that's a credit to him as a person, as I didn't know him before but I think he did a lot for us."
As for Lithgow Council?
"Where was that mayor? Where was he?"
Ms Alexander said she was worried that there were still things around the area that hadn't burned.
"It'll go again, it's already July and our first fires started in September," she said.
But after everything, Ms Alexander said you can't change what happened.
"I'd like to think that we learn and we realised that the lack of communication, the, you know, one brigade not talking to the other won't happen again," she said.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I thought I was stronger before.Susan Alexander
Ms Alexander said she was not going to go through this again.
"You know, we we thought we were pretty okay. Turns out we weren't. And we could do a lot more and we've done it."
While the mental health of the community and her family may not be at it's strongest at the moment, Susan Alexander and her family are moving forward, despite how hard that is.
"I just joke with my neighbour and I just say, look at the end of the day we'll be the posh end of the street now, all the new houses in a row," she said.