“Our helmets were melting, our masks were melting, and some nights we just saw red as far as the eye could see.”
That’s the way one New South Wales volunteer firefighter, Gareth Jamieson, described the unprecedented and unpredictable 2019/2020 bushfires.
Based in Picton’s Rural Fire Service, Mr Jamieson was on the front line battling the devastating Green Wattle Creek blaze that burned from November 2019 to January 2020 and destroyed more than 275,000 hectares of land.
Together with his fellow firefighters, Mr Jamieson fought the fire for more than 700 hours, often going days without sleeping.
“I recall days where I would go 36 plus hours without sleep. But, you would see other members of your brigade getting on the truck each day doing the same thing as you, and I just thought: ‘I’ve got to do this not only for the community, but the members in my brigade’,” he said.
“I don’t think you can really put it into words, to see that ferocity, that sort of devastation. And it was completely overwhelming to feel like you are just one fire truck.
“It was devastating to see people lose their livelihoods in the space of one night and wake up the next morning and people have no homes, no places to go back to. As a member of our brigade, you want to do all that you can to help, but unfortunately sometimes we couldn’t do enough.”
The Green Wattle Creek fire damaged or destroyed more than 30 homes in Wollondilly alone and impacted more than 270 rural landholders.
While all of the firefighters involved in the fight against the Green Wattle Creek fire did an amazing job to control and eventually stop the blaze altogether, Mr Jamieson said the bushfire made it clear that despite the Brigade being equipped with the right skills and determination, the facilities could have done with some improvement.