Firefighters back From Victoria Geoff Newham, Michael Watson, both in NSW Fire Brigade, Marc Huxley-Rural Fire Volunteer, and Phil Truesdale from NSW Fire Brigade.
Firefighters back From Victoria Geoff Newham, Michael Watson, both in NSW Fire Brigade, Marc Huxley-Rural Fire Volunteer, and Phil Truesdale from NSW Fire Brigade. Crystal Spencer

Firies return from 'hell'

EVEN with years of fire training experience between them, four Tweed Fire Fighters left worried families behind when they travelled to country Victoria late last week.

Almost a month after the devastating Black Saturday fires of February 7, there is still an enormous operation underway to bring fires under control and to protect the many small towns north east of Melbourne.

To the relief of their families and friends, Tweed Heads Fire Brigade firies Michael Watson, Geoff Mewham, Phil Truesdale and Marc Huxley arrived back on the Tweed this week exhausted but safe after helping to fight the fires.

Captain Watson, Mr Mewham and Mr Truesdale travelled south as part of the New South Wales Fire Brigade deployment, while Mr Huxley, a volunteer firefighter at the Rural Fire Service's (RFS) Bilambil Station, was part of an RFS deployment.

The town of Eildon was under direct threat on Friday and the NSW Fire Brigade was there with 10 tankers ready to defend the area.

As the firefighters waited with the fire only 5km away, Mr Truesdale said there was no time to worry about the risk to their own safety.

“You are preoccupied making sure you have got water supply and the section commander is making sure all the trucks are in position,” Mr Truesdale said.

Mr Mewham added: “That is what we are trained for, we were ready for it if it turned bad. We were glad to go down there and help in any way we could”.

Mr Watson said the NSW Fire Brigade was committed for as long as it took to beat the fire, and there had already been seven deployments since February 8.

“If they asked us again we would put our hand up for sure - everyone in the station would,” Mr Watson said.

Luckily the wind didn't turn towards Eildon and the fire passed.

The firefighters were amazed at the intense heat of the blaze which had destroyed about 26,200 hectares of bushland.

All that was left of some wildlife was charred piles of bones.

Big trees that had toppled literally had no branches left. They had been disintegrated, leaving piles of ash stemming from big oven-like tree trunks.

There were cars that had only made it to the end of driveways as people tried to escape, but they didn't even reach the end before being engulfed.

The current effort to extinguish the blaze is the biggest operation any of the men have ever seen.

“It was probably the biggest logistics operation I have been to,” Mr Mewham said.

After the threat to Eildon passed, the firefighters joined the containment line, ensuring no spot fires would erupt in the ashes of already burned land.

Mr Huxley was part of the RFS doing similar work around Healesville on the boundary of the Yarra Ranges National Park.

The main danger for emergency workers is falling trees.

Because they are so badly burnt, they make no sound when they start to fall.

As the firefighters travelled through the deserted towns they saw the occasional messages of support left by the locals for them.

“The people there are really appreciative of what we are doing.”

Victoria remained at “extreme risk” of fire yesterday and the Tweed firefighters estimated the fight would continue for at least five weeks.



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