Martin Greenwood has spent more than a decade volunteering at the Rivers Brigade for the ACT Rural Fire Service.
While he didn’t attend the devastating Currowan Fire which burned for 74 days across 499,621 hectares until 8 February, 2020, he felt it was a story that deserved to be told.
“There were a lot of stories that came out of that bushfire season, the whole country was on fire,” he said.
“This was one day, one crew, one tiny little town.”
Martin created a 20-minute piece for the Canberra Short Film Festival following the journey of four ACT firefighters and the day they arrived in Nerriga.
The ACT strike team was a last-minute addition to fight the fire. That day they thought they were going to help out at Braidwood, but were redirected down the South Coast.
Martin also sat down with one NSW firefighter who had been in Nerriga since earlier in the day.
As you watch the film you can see the incredible transformation of the landscape as the fire erupts into an inferno.
“The footage captures their arrival in Nerriga in the mid-afternoon, it has the orange glow and smoke, but was a normal day like we’d been living through at that point,” Martin said.
“Twenty minutes after they arrived everything was absolutely pitch black, and 10 minutes after that the fire was at 60 metres, three times the height of the trees, just coming at them.
“But 20 minutes later again, the fire front is through and you’re back to normal daylight, you had to remind yourself you weren’t fighting a fire at night.”
Martin had seen the footage captured of that day by his colleagues on their trucks, phones and GoPros, and described it as “apocalyptic”.
“They were sitting underneath a thunderstorm made of fire,” he said.
“They could hear the animals screaming, see birds just dropping from the sky.
“You see so much stuff that’s hyper-sensationalised, but this is real.”
Not only do you see what the firefighters saw, Martin also had them sit down and talk through their experience, and reflect on what happened to them that day.
He said one thing which struck volunteers was how they would come in, help, but then sometimes have to leave without a resolution.
“There were people lying on the floor of Nerriga Pub after evacuating there, and there was just a sense of helplessness,” Martin said.
“Our guys, they left Canberra at 2 pm, were there until two or three in the morning, and then they go again.”
Martin said the quick transition from such a horror bushfire season into the start of the pandemic in March 2020 meant he felt stories such as these had been forgotten too quickly.
He wanted to bring them back into our consciousness.
“We were just going from August , we had been deployed to northern Queensland, the fire in Canberra burned for months,” Martin said.
“We were still dealing with it when we went into lockdown – if we hadn’t had lockdown, we probably would still be talking about it in a way that we’re not.”
Martin said when he showed the film to other RFS members, there were still tears when people reflected back on what happened.
“One guy Simon told me, ‘I’m now on my fourth once-in-a-lifetime fire’,” he said.
“Another told me about how they had fought to save a house, and then four days later they drove past and saw it was on fire, it just devastated them.
“One commented he didn’t remember it ever going back to daylight, he can’t remember going home, can’t remember leaving the fire – there are so many different perspectives of the same thing.”
Martin also wanted the chance to highlight what volunteers did during those gruelling months, as much news coverage at the time had featured the voices of fire victims and officials.
“It’s not as if there’s not stories about volunteer firefighters, but there aren’t many genuinely from their perspective,” he said.
“This really tells their actual story and gives that window of what they experienced.”
The fire burned across the Shoalhaven region, as well as into the Eurobodalla, Wingecarribee and Queanbeyan-Palerang areas. Three hundred and twelve homes were destroyed and 173 were damaged.
However, thanks to the efforts of firefighters and the community, 1889 homes were saved.
Martin’s film ‘Nerriga Firestorm‘ can be viewed on YouTube.
Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on About Regional.