“It’s been absolutely outstanding work from all the firies,” says Goulburn-based NSW Fire and Rescue duty commander Dean Campbell as he literally inhales a sandwich and bottle of water for lunch on Sunday (1 December).
Around him and his firefighting brothers from the NSW Rural Fire Service and NSW Fire and Rescue units are the smells of a burnt land and burnt animals.
It’s undeniable that animals have died, but no human lives have been lost. The vast majority of properties have also been miraculously spared.
“It’s always a shame when someone’s house does burn down, but considering the resources we’ve got, they’ve done an outstanding job.
“There are a lot of properties in some hard areas of bushland and it’s been remarkable how many have been saved,” Mr Campbell said.
He recalls the situation on Friday night.
“It’s always pretty hair-raising when you first drive into the fire front. There was a massive smoke column and as it comes on dark, the glow of the fire is quite eerie and really ominous when you’re standing there not quite knowing where it’s going to end up.
“We were in a few places and we ended up at the Braidwood Showground to protect livestock and horses that were coming under direct threat.
“We took our strike team down there and protected those animals, as there were a lot of people were really concerned,” he said.
Six fire units from Nowra, Batemans Bay, Moruya, Braidwood, Queanbeyan and Goulburn were taking a quick break at Bombay on Sunday when they spoke to Region Media before taking off again to tackle an outbreak at Majors Creek to the south of Braidwood.
Since Friday, it has been a constant flow of respond, assess, react and move as the North Black Range fire continues its erratic nature to the west and south-west of Braidwood.
The crews had just responded to a triple-zero call on Little Bombay Road that thankfully didn’t require the use of water. They enjoyed bottles of it instead before moving on to the next emergency.
“This is the best ham sandwich I’ve ever eaten,” said James Rumble, a firefighter from Queanbeyan Fire and Rescue. “The most important person with us today is this guy driving the replenishment van – he’s a bloody legend!”
They continue for their third day in a row fighting a fire that has been growing rapidly for the last six days. The firefighters haven’t yet had the chance to come to terms with the fact there has been no loss of life from the North Black Range fire.
They will reflect tomorrow when the next firefighting units replace them after midnight on Sunday.
Braidwood resident Andrew Johnson stood on the roof of his mother’s house at Little Bombay Road as the fire raged around him on Friday night, and said he couldn’t believe the fire didn’t take more properties in its wake.
His brother Huw, a Rural Fire Service firefighter from the Kanimbla Brigade in the Blue Mountains, was there with him as they went toe-to-toe with the fire, with the help of local firefighters.
“The flames were incredible,” said Mr Johnson. “The fire burned back around towards Bombay Road, but all of the houses along here have been spared. The fire hit the ridge above us and just stopped and thankfully it didn’t come down into the valley.
“We were very lucky.”
James Rumble tells a similar tale of heroics.
“Where you think a fire front has passed, it flares up again, it’s just so unpredictable,” he said.
“The RFS did an amazing job. It’s a really specific skill having grassland firefighting skills and that’s what the RFS did really well on Friday night.
“The fire comes out of the bushes and it flies and it was just spotting all over the place – sometimes it spots 20 metres, other times it was 20 kilometres.”
Meanwhile duty commander Dean Campbell and his team push on.
“It’ll be a good feeling when the job’s done and the fire is out and hopefully, there are no injuries which is really what we’re after.
“You can always replace the houses, so we’ll keep on going, as the public’s safety is the number one priority for us.”