Fire in the night: Candelo volunteer shares first-hand account of inferno

The below story was submitted by Candelo volunteer firefighter Ken Holloway about his own experience of the night shift of December 30 (some of Ken's colourful language left in for effect!) He posted this to his Facebook page as well as sending it through to the Bega District News for sharing.

Sincere thanks to Ken and all his fellow firefighters during this devastating bushfire crisis.

Self portrait by Candelo firefighter Ken Holloway.

Self portrait by Candelo firefighter Ken Holloway.

Home safely after a rather quiet night patrolling Quaama village, which appears to have lost 14 houses.

It's been a wild 48 hours starting with a call out to the Wyndham and Bemboka fires. Got to the shed too late and ended up on night shift.

Arrived at Bemboka to take over and immediately started to blackout grass fires. Called out to respond to the fire as it had crossed the Snowy Mountains Highway further to the north. Helped out there for a bit before being required at McCleod Hill north of Brogo.

Here is where the shit was really hitting the fan. Fires raging on both sides of the highway, embers flying with thick smoke everywhere.

Sent off into the boondocks to battle a couple of hotspots over some pretty rugged terrain for the large truck we were in before being recalled before we were overrun. Went off on to the coast side of the highway to try and reach another breakout over even more rugged terrain! Kudos to our fab driver and crew Captain Bevan Airey who negotiated our big truck through some mighty tight turns and steep hills.

After dousing the blaze there we were then called to move further north to assist with ongoing fires nearer to Quaama. Mass evacuations were underway as the firefront hit Quaama and Cobargo. Needless to say I was feeling pretty amped at this point, but our night was only starting.

With Quaama under attack we were called to go to Nardy House to assist with the evacuation of several wheelchair bound special needs patients. Having helped the staff to load the patients our control leader arrived to escort the group to safety.

Our mission (if we chose to accept it) was to defend this property from the firestorm which was approaching on two fronts! Thankfully two more fire trucks arrived to assist. We prepared our hoses and waited as the fire swirled toward us.

The noise as it approached was horrendous, massive flames that hit the shaved grass and literally flew towards us. Trying to aim the hose while running backwards is no easy task but we managed to contain that side.

Shouts from behind to rush to the other side as the other front hit with its own wind system swirling in every direction.

Eyes wide open!

Running with the hoses up and down the fire edges trying to stop it reaching cars parked in car park, such a brilliant job done by everyone there. Trees alight from top to bottom with unbelievable ember attack as the wind continued sending the flames in all directions to unreachable heights.

After a short time (which felt like hours) we had it beaten. High fives all round.

Radio blaring to return to Quaama as the fire shed (where all the evacuees were held) was now under attack.

Helped out there to contain the bush fire and then moved on to property protection mode in the rest of the village. Gas bottles exploding as we saw the church (old timber building) starting to burn. We could save this.

Fuel level in truck cuts out water pump when it gets too low. Had to leave church to burn as we had to refuel.

Continued for the rest of the evening/morning putting out spotfires throughout the town until our relief crew arrived. Home, sleep for a few hours and relaxed until we travelled up to Quaama to relieve the day crew again.

Thankfully the weather was kind with no wind so New Year's Eve was a very quiet, boring (compared to the night before) session patrolling Quaama putting out hotspots with just a quick trip into Cobargo to assist putting out a deck on fire.

Even managed a short sleep only to be interrupted every now and then with radio calls. Had the pleasure of chatting to two senior volunteers from Quaama who had to sleep in the fire shed overnight and hadn't been able to get back to see if their own homes were intact or not.

So Happy New Year everyone, I hope you all enjoyed this glimpse into night shift on the fire ground. Be safe out there.

This story Fire in the night: Candelo volunteer shares first-hand account of inferno first appeared on Bega District News.