It was the first bushfire in 50 years Allan Evans didn't fight.
"They didn't need us old fellas getting in the way," the 76-year-old chuckles.
But he couldn't bear to think of his work dogs dying on the chain the night the fire started bearing down on his farm at Colac Colac, Victoria on December 30, 2019.
Allan watched the fire roar over Mount Mittamatite from his home at Corryong that evening.
"I said then that it will take the farm and so I went out at 3am to retrieve the dogs," he recalls.
"We just made it back to town in time."
When they returned to the 400-acre property, Happy Valley, at 3pm the next day, the damage was done.
The shearing shed was gone, as were the fences and "every blade of grass", 50 per cent of the trees and more than half the breeding stock, according to Allan.
"We were left with 10 strainer posts," he says.
"We'd recently cut back to 400 ewes and the fire took 240 of them, as well as 15 of our 30 head of cattle.
"It wasn't a good fire."
As luck would have it - and the fickleness of fire being what it is - the blaze came within 18 inches of a big old shed filled with gear.
And while they had to put out a "little fire" still smouldering in the hay shed, the "well-insured" cottage was also spared.
Allan laughs ruefully as he tells me there was no insurance on the shearing shed, having previously paid the policy for 48 years.
Ah, but that's farming, he adds.
"You talk about casinos - farming's the biggest gamble there is," he says.
"You gamble on the prices, the stock, the weather ... but you accept all that and away you go."
What's been infinitely harder to accept in the months since is the loss of his grandson, Jake Evans, to brain cancer at the age of 25.
"The fire wasn't enormous to us because our biggest thing was Jake, who was ill at the time," Allan says.
"He was our foremost concern; the other was just a challenge."
Jake passed away on May 20.
He was the beloved son of James (Allan's son) and Cheryl Evans, of Corryong, and brother to Alliza.
"Since we lost him, the enormity of it all has hit," Allan states simply.
The task of rebuilding, re-fencing and recovering becomes that bit more arduous, a harder slog on the steep hills on tough days.
One day, out of the blue, Jamie Wolf pulled into the property.
The Fencing For Fires founder had played footy with Jake for Kiewa-Sandy Creek a few seasons back.
The pair were in the reserves grand final together against Thurgoona - and won, as Jamie recalls.
"Jake brought him to us," Allan says as he describes Jamie's herculean fencing efforts.
As is his want, Jamie and the FFS crew took on projects in the toughest bits on the place.
"That bloke's unbelievable," Allan laughs admiringly.
"He did jobs nobody else wanted to know about.
"One 400-metre stretch was about three to four times the work it would be on the flat; the country was as rough as they come.
"Jamie came three times to home and made all the difference; that one fence gave us back 50 to 70 acres."
The Wodonga dad and former soldier says everywhere he goes there are "stories within stories" from the fire front - of heartbreak, survival and incredible resilience.
The decision to help is a "natural instinct".
"For me, post defence, helping people in your country if disaster strikes will be something that's always with me," Jamie says.
"And as bad as it's all been, it's a privilege to help people in fire-affected zones."
Today burnt trees and rows of new fencing stand as a reminder of the inferno that swept through the district eight months ago.
Allan, like so many others, knew it was coming from as far out as August.
"You could see the build-up, the bulk growth on crown land and you knew it wouldn't be good," he says.
"We prepared for it, we put the sheep, cattle and tractors in a bare paddock; once it got going, though, there was no way on earth you were going to stop it."
Allan moved his wife of 54 years, Dorothy, to the Corryong hospital during the immediate threat due to her ongoing lung problems.
She then went to stay with their daughter, Fiona Browning at Yarrawonga, for three weeks as the smoke-filled air "wasn't easy living" in the fire aftermath.
Meanwhile neighbours and family pitched in with chainsaws, materials and manpower, crews from the Hawthorn Football Club and (Alliza's) Jindera Football Netball Club all turned up for working bees.
Allan still marvels at people's generosity; he is yet to see a bill from the carriers who carted sheep back and forth from his son-in-law's property.
"The hay that came in, the dog food, groceries, generators ... you name it," he says.
And while people are "getting a handle on things", there are still some miles to go.
"The community is ... ebbing and flowing," he says.
Through it all is a gritty will to prevail.
"Fair-dinkum farmers and people who love the land don't know the meaning of giving up," he states adamantly.
In bittersweet news, Allan received the all-clear last week on his own five-year battle with bowel cancer.
So for now, he's content to keep working the land he loves.
"I live for nothing else apart from my family, friends and farm," he says.
"I'd be quite happy if they pick me up somewhere along the fence line in 10 or 15 years."
- To support the ongoing work of Fencing for Fires or to find out more about who and where they've helped go to the Facebook page or donate to Jamie Wolf's fundraising efforts.