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In the fire zone

Tuesday, 28th January, 2020

Silverton Brigade volunteers (from left): Tony Langdon, Rodney Grenfell, Jess McManus, Tracy Aebi, Paul Kaye, Chris Fraser, Cec Fraser and Sam Pike. PICTURE: Callum Marshall Silverton Brigade volunteers (from left): Tony Langdon, Rodney Grenfell, Jess McManus, Tracy Aebi, Paul Kaye, Chris Fraser, Cec Fraser and Sam Pike. PICTURE: Callum Marshall

By Callum Marshall

Firefighters from the Silverton Brigade have been doing their part to help combat the current bushfire crisis, with members recalling their intense firefighting experiences and the generosity of communities they’ve assisted.

The Silverton crew, who count 47 members in total, have seen members called out to places such as Rylstone, Merriwa, Yarrowitch and Fern Gully, with many other firies across the region helping out as well.

Chatting to RFS Inspector and District Manager for the Far West, Vaughn Elsworth, on Wednesday, Silverton Brigade Captain Rodney Grenfell said firefighter deployment rates across the region were very good.

“There were 44 volunteers, and there ended up being 110 deployments to go out to the fires out of this area alone,” he said.

“Up to date, Silverton (and) this area around here, is one of the highest deployment rates out of the whole lot of New South Wales.

“Which is a really good effort for the people that are here.

“We’re here not only for us but for the community and whoever we can help.”

He said 11 firies from the brigade had been called out to help fight fires during the current bushfire crisis, with fellow Silverton firefighter Tracy Aebi saying there’d been about 19 deployments from the brigade in total.

“Paul (Kaye) went to Coffs Harbour (for) the first one,” said Mr Grenfell. “He was shifting trucks round in Coffs Harbour.”

“We got flown to Port Macquarie and picked up trucks and then went to Merriwa,” added Ms Aebi.

“We were originally going to Kempsey and then they’ve changed us last minute and ended up in Merriwa.”

The two firefighters said that deployment locations could change quite quickly.

“You could end up anywhere, you don’t know,” said Mr Grenfell.

“Currently we’re going to Cooma,” added Ms Aebi.

“But there’s a big fire near Dubbo and we’re flying to Dubbo tomorrow (Thursday), so we might go to Cooma or we might end up somewhere else. 

“They don’t know until last minute.”

Mr Grenfell said the crew had done a lot of follow-on doses, back burning, spotting out, and running and shifting of trucks across the deployments, with many hours spent battling blazes and controlling fire fronts.

“My first deployment we actually had the main fire front coming out of a national park, so that was very interesting,” said Ms Aebi.

“There was a lot of spot fires with that one. Kept us on our toes.

“It was an 18 hour day by the end of it.”

“You get up and have breakfast at 6:30-7am in the morning then you get the truck ready and then you leave at 10:30-11am,” added Mr Grenfell.

“And we’re on the split shift, so you get back at 12am and by the time you get to bed it’s 1:30am.

“And then you get up and you go again.

“They’re long days. That’s why you’re only supposed to be on the fire ground for three days.”

Along the way there’s been some pretty intense experiences, they said.

“Coming out of Fern Gully ridge, putting out fires and then finding out your water tanker has done a runner and the fire front’s coming at you - that was pretty intense,” said Mr Grenfell.

“Sort of come out, the water tanker’s gone and we thought, ‘you’ve gone up around the corner to get out of the way.’

“But when you look up at the corner there’s just a wall of fire coming at you. 

“(So I said,)’Get in the truck boys, we’re going. We’re not hanging around.’”

“When we were at Merriwa, and the fire front was coming out of the state forests, I could see it in the distance and I thought I’d better radio in for some backup because this is coming out in a minute,” said Ms Aebi.

“And those flames were higher than the high-voltage power lines.

“And the explosions that you could hear from those...I’ve never heard a noise like that before.”

Asked if these were the most intense fires they’d experienced, Ms Aebi said yes and Mr Grenfell highlighted their strength.

“Yeah, and definitely the longest too,” said Ms Aebi.

“They’ve had bad ones in South Australia but I’ve never seen a fire season go that long.”

“The height of the trees and when the fire comes out of the tops of them and the heat that comes off them, it’s unreal,” said Mr Grenfell.

“You have a look inside some of the trucks and they’re melted. The mirrors and that and the paint jobs are all melted off of them.”

Alongside the horrors of the fires though, the generosity of people has also stood out, with both firies highlighting the great support they’d received from bushfire affected communities.

“At Rylstone, you couldn’t have got friendlier people,” said Mr Grenfell.

“They wanted to give you stuff and it was their town that was on fire.

“If they could help you, they’d help you.

“And when you went in to get your lunches, your packs with lollies, biscuits, apples and whatever, there were notes from kids.

“These little notes and you go, ‘hey boys, open your pack.’ And you go through the pack and you find a different note form the kids from school.

“Just the friendliness from everyone there. I’ve never been across nothing like it.

“I’ve got to go back when it’s grown back.”

“The Rotary were doing our meals and they were there cooking three meals a day for us,” added Ms Aebi.

“They’ve put in just as much hard work as us.

“(On) our first day we had a couple of hours still waiting to find out where we’re going, and someone said, ‘could you help us unpack this little truck?’

“And inside that truck were boxes of donations and on the boxes there were notes to the RFS - ‘thank you firies’ and stuff like that. 

“I’m really glad that I helped unpack those boxes because I wouldn’t have seen where all our food that we’re getting to eat came from.

“So it was quite amazing.”

Mr Grenfell said everywhere they went across the state people were coming together and helping each other out.

“Everyone just wants to help,” he said. “Everywhere we went through, Mudgee and that, everyone was the same.”

“Even locals here like Barossa Knitting Mills,” added Ms Aebi. “I took my uniform in there to get my hems taken up and I said, ‘how much is it?’ and they said ‘it’s nothing.’

“In Rylstone, I went into a supermarket to get a couple packets of chewies and it was $8,” said Mr Grenfell. 

“And I said how much and she (the store owner) said, ‘nothing.’

“And I said, ‘you can’t afford to keep giving things away’ and she said ‘you either take them or you don’t get them.’

“She said ‘well youse are here.’ But I said, ‘we’ve got to pay you.’ And she said, ‘No. You just take them.’

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