NRL great Ron Coote has described how the devastating Australian bushfires destroyed his home of almost four decades, while his wife and daughter were forced to swim in a lake for more than hour to escape the flames.
The 75-year-old Coote, who played rugby league for Australia as well as South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs between 1964 and 1978, told the Daily Telegraph how he battled the blaze with hoses and water from his swimming pool on New Year's Eve - but ultimately had to watch his home of 35 years in Lake Conjola on the New South Wales south coast go up in flames.
Coote's wife Robin, the couple's daughter and some friends ran down to the lake after attempts to contain the fire were unsuccessful.
"We got down onto the pontoon and the flames were there, it was really scary … and I jumped in. It was daytime, but it was black — everything was black," Robin Coote told the Today Show.
"It [the fire] just moved that quick ... it was just flying up the trees.
"We couldn't last much longer because as we were swimming to get to the other side of the lake the fire kept crawling up the other side … so that made it further and we never seemed to get to the end of it."
Robin Coote was eventually saved by a passer-by on a jetski - after more than an hour in the water.
"It happened so quickly, all of a sudden on top of us," Ron Coote told the Daily Telegraph.
"We were defending there, we had fire hoses, pumps and had to use the water out of the swimming pool, then it got up into the eaves of those houses… then she went up mate."
Coote had lost track of his family while battling the fire, he said.
"And I hear after, they had ran down to where the pontoon was, they had to jump in the lake, the three of them. My daughter Natalie helped then all down … and they had to swim out and had to tread water."
His daughter's house next door was also destroyed, along with 50 other homes in Lake Conjola, local media reported yesterday.
"It's a bit daunting of a morning when you get up and you have no clothes to put on," Ron Coote said.
"We used to get up and go to the drawer to put something on and away you'd go, but unfortunately that's happened.
"That's life, you get on with it … we're not going to let this interfere with our great life we have down here."