“This is as bad as it gets.”
That was the dire warning from the Rural Fire Service chief Shane Fitzsimmons for dozens of firefighters who hit the highway yesterday bound for bushfire disaster zones.
There were nerves and a bit of trepidation as the locals headed into the unprecedented conditions today – forecast to be some of the worst in
the state’s history.
As the call for help on the ground continues, the latest wave of RFS volunteers left Tamworth for the Hunter while 22 Fire and Rescue NSW firefighters headed straight for the Blue Mountains to protect lives and property under threat from the raging infernos.
The troops rallied in no time, assembling at a safety briefing in
Tamworth yesterday morning.
Fire and Rescue NSW New
England Zone Superintendent Steve Hirst told them to expect the worst.
“[Today’s] fire prediction is unprecedented,” he said.
“We haven’t seen fire activity in living memory like what we’re expecting to face (today).
“The sound is like a freight train coming towards you. It’s daunting.”
But they were warned – their safety is paramount.
They will have to contend with falling tree branches and flying embers.
Gunnedah Captain Rodney Byrnes said he had a fair idea of what to expect.
“I’ve been to the Victorian bushfires, also Newcastle storms, Coonabarabran bushfires, Kaputar bushfires, so I’ve had a few gos at it,” Captain Byrnes said.
“A bushfire like that can just get out of control so quickly, so it is a worry.
“But we’re going into the unknown because we don’t know how bad it’ll be.”
And some things don’t change – no matter where you go.
“Apart from the choking smoke and intense heat, it is very loud when a bushfire is coming,” he said.
“It is probably an eerie sound and it’s quite daunting. It’s a worry when you see so many houses burnt.”
Five trucks laden with 22 firefighters rolled out yesterday morning from the Tamworth base.
Strike team leader Inspector Grant O’Regan was leading the local charge down to the Blue Mountains.
He said so many locals jumped at the word go, meaning quite a few had to be turned away this time around.
“It’s just the community spirit and the job they are in. This is what it’s all about – fighting fires,” he said.
As a firefighter for 30 years, Inspector O’Regan knows what things will be like on the ground.
“It’s probably the unexpected that gives you a little bit of anxiousness,” he said.
And they weren’t the only ones with butterflies.
Across at RFS headquarters another load of volunteers boarded a bus – this time headed for Muswellbrook and Singleton to backburn against fires in the Wollemi National Park.
“Most of them have been away before, but a few probably are a bit nervous,” RFS Superintendent Allyn Purkiss said.
“But they’re mixed in with guys that have been away many times before.”
This is the second strike team from Tamworth and they’ll relieve some of the
volunteers who have been on the fire ground since Saturday.
“We had seven [Monday] night and we ended up with 17 on the bus [yesterday],” Superintendent Purkiss said.
“We just had phones ringing off the hook this morning.”
All the crews are expected to return by the end of the week with more loads of firefighters expected to make the trip down as conditions worsen.