20 March 2018

Tathra starts to head home with hope

| Ian Campbell
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Matt Reeves from the Rural Fire Services addresses the evacuation centre at Bega Showground. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Matt Reeves from the Rural Fire Services addresses the evacuation centre at Bega Showground. Photo: Ian Campbell.

One Tathra family who lost their “forever home” have moved to reassure and thank firefighters who battled Sunday’s furnace.

Media speculation today has suggested incompetence by the Rural Fire Service for declining offers of help from Fire & Rescue NSW in the early stages of the blaze.

Flames from the Reedy Swamp Fire gathered momentum and travelled the 17km east towards Tathra quickly after lunch on Sunday, first responders have described the situation as overwhelming. “No available resources could have dealt with this fire under the prevailing conditions,” one firefighter who was there told me.

In the 48 hours since Gary and Leanne Cochrane have also been receiving text messages from local RFS volunteers expressing guilt. The Cochrane’s home on Francis Hollis Drive overlooking Tathra’s stunning beach was one of the 69 destroyed.

“We’ve been getting messages from firefighters who were there at the time, telling me they are sorry they weren’t able to save our house,” Leanne says.

“I think they are feeling guilty, which is definitely not the way they should be feeling, we are very supportive of them and thankful that they were there and did everything they could to save the house.”

Senior members of the Rural Fire Service moved quickly this morning to lend their weight and support to the efforts of Bega Valley volunteer brigades who responded on Sunday.

“You may have seen information in the media relating to the initial call out,” Matthew Reeves from the RFS told the 300 people gathered for this mornings briefing.

“And how the RFS didn’t take Fire & Rescue NSW up on their offer of assistance to send pumpers and resources to the initial fire call.

“The terrain that the initial fire was reported in is not terrain suited to urban fire appliances. It’s terrain that is suited only to four-wheel drive appliances that are equipped to deal with bushfires.”

Mr Reeves went on to detail the specialist features of RFS vehicles including crew safety mechanisms and water carrying capacity and that the services of Fire and Rescue NSW were called into play where appropriate.

“If a suitable appliance is ever offered for the protection of life and property we would never refuse that, the RFS would never refuse assistance where that assistance is suited to the conditions and the environment we are entering into,” Mr Reeves says.

The Cochrane’s are hoping to get together with those who tried to save their home when time allows.

“We’ve still got the barbeque in the front yard so we might have a sausage sizzle when we can get back in,” Leanne laughs.

Both get emotional though when reminded of the home that has been lost.

“This was our forever home, we’d just completed it, I had just planted the last plant in the front garden on Sunday morning – ironically they are still there, ” Leanne says.

“We’ll rebuild,” Gary says.

The remains of the Cochrane's home on Francis Hollis Drive. Photo: Leanne Cochrane.

The remains of the Cochrane’s home on Francis Hollis Drive. Photo: Leanne Cochrane.

Other members of the Tathra community started to trickle home today with a number of streets opened late in the day for the first time since Sunday’s firestorm.However, much of Tathra still remains in lockdown with many residents spending their third night away from home.

For up to date news and updates call 1800 679 737 or check the NSW RFS website

A sense of hope has been restored it seems, Chaplains report residents seeing Tathra for the first time today have been shocked by what they see and know their neighbourhood has been changed forever, but they have also seen and recognised that enough remains to start again.

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Emma Peterson8:46 pm 20 Mar 18

Leanne & Gary – there are no words for your loss. Your strength and positive attitude is amazing. Great interview Ian.

Ian Campbell10:24 pm 20 Mar 18

Thanks Emma! Ian

Stephanie Walker8:30 pm 20 Mar 18

Hi Ian. I must applaud you on your coverage of the Tathra bushfires. I have close friends who were impacted. I’ve been able to stay up to date with your regular updates on About Regional. Looking at all the other comments you have received I am not alone in my thoughts. Thank you. My heart goes out to all those impacted. Tathra is such a strong community (family) who will come out stronger.

Ian Campbell10:25 pm 20 Mar 18

Appreciate your words, Stephanie – thanks! Ian

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