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Sunshine Coast residents let back into Peregian homes

There was a loud cheer late this morning when cops finally allowed thousands of Peregian Beach residents in south-east Queensland back into their homes.

They had been sleeping in their cars, with family and friends, or at emergency evacuation centres, after being forced to drop everything and flee on Monday afternoon due to a devastating bushfire.

After following the long stream of motorists into the empty beachside town this morning, the first thing that struck me once I’d pulled up was how relieved everyone appeared.

Many of those passing me in their cars smiled and, like me, they were taking pictures of the strange scenes around them on their phones.

Some were walking out onto street — a few with cold beers in stubbie-holders in hand — and talking about how lucky they had been.

However, not everybody was smiling.

On Plover Street, a narrow street that runs parallel to the seemingly endless beach, a solemn-looking band of neighbours and mates were shuffling in and out of a blackened shell of a home.

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Of the 17 homes destroyed — so far — in Queensland, this old wooden beachfront house miraculously was the only one destroyed in Peregian Beach.

Those gathered outside were carrying boxes of belongings to a nearby neighbour’s home, and politely told me the woman who lived there wouldn’t be speaking to the media.

And, as camera crews with big vans and sharply dressed TV reporters began to arrive at the scene, I didn’t blame her.

Strangely, while her home had burned to a shell, many of the surrounding homes seemed completely in tact, surrounded by bright green lawns and vegetation.

Steve Lowe, a mate of one of her neighbours, had dropped into town to check on his friend’s house and was surprised to find it was perfectly fine.

“I think a lot of people are surprised about how well their homes have held up,” he said. “I think it’s a credit to the firefighting effort more than anything else. Those guys are real heroes.”

A few doors down however, you could see significant damage to a roof and the fence had been entirely burned down.

“You can look at it and say certain materials burn easier than others, but I think that when it comes down to it, it’s just the luck of the draw,” Mr Lowe said. “You don’t know what path the fire’s going to take.”

The stench of heavy smoke was taking its toll on me by this point, so I took a detour to the town square via the servo which, to my relief had reopened.

Kev, the bloke behind the till, got the station going single-handedly in record-breaking speed, while fending off interview requests from journalists.

He told me he could see the thick bush ablaze across the road his petrol pumps on Monday afternoon, and made a break for it.

However, he wasted no time once the police blockade had lifted this morning and was back serving customers as if nothing had ever happened.

Just down the road, in the town square, local cafes and restaurant owners could be heard making late orders for supplies, trying to guess how much food they’d need on such a bizarre day.

One cafe even offered free coffee and biscuits while they waited on their order and one local clothing shop launched a “slightly smoked” sale, which is due to end “when the air clears”.

It had only been a couple of hours ago that this had been a ghost town, but it now seems Peregian Beach residents are just getting on with it.

Families were headed out to catch up with their neighbours and kids, joyous that schools were still closed, took a beeline for the beach.

The normality, however, was interrupted when a fire engine rushed through the town centre with sirens blaring.

And, in the not-so-distant hinterland you could see helicopters carrying payloads of water to dump on the smouldering bush.

It’s a painful reminder that life around here might not be back to normal for some time.

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