Ten volunteer firefighters from the Deakin Group spent last week battling bushfires in the Blue Mountains and other parts of the state.By Trent Horneman
Echuca Village Fire Brigade member David Stephens had 60 minutes’ notice to prepare himself to join a strike team for five days, fighting out of control fires in NSW.
Mr Stephens was one of 10 volunteers from the Deakin Group who joined hundreds of volunteers battling fires in the Blue Mountains and other parts of the state.
The team left on Thursday, heading to Penrith Panthers Leagues Club for safety checks and briefings.
Mr Stephens said the team spent its first shift in Falconbridge, an outer western suburb of Sydney, checking areas which were blacked out, to make sure fires would not reignite.
He said volunteers were able to talk with residents, who had watched the out-of-control fire ravage the neighbourhood.
Mr Stephens said volunteers took time out of their duties to take on some of the locals in a game of cricket.
‘‘The residents were grateful for us being there. They came out and offered us food and drink,’’ he said.
At the end of their shift, the crews returned to the Penrith club, which was a base for volunteers from throughout NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.
‘‘It was really a positive place. You would be talking to people from different states, comparing notes about what you had done and where you had been,’’ he said.
During the second shift, the team was meant to head to Katoomba, when it was turned around and sent to Colo Heights, preparing vegetation breaks to stop a fire spreading into more bushland.
‘‘We were clearing vegetation. We had to defend the road, because on the other side was continuous bushland,’’ he said.
‘‘We were part of five strike teams (100 volunteers) who defended the road. We tried to back-burn but we had to stop as conditions were too erratic.
‘‘The fire approached, reaching 4m high at some stages. We were able to hold strong and achieve a good outcome.’’
While the worst of the bushfires has passed, Mr Stephens said fire crews still had plenty of work to do before the job was done.
He said he hoped favourable weather conditions could help firefighters.
Two members of the Deakin strike team experienced their first major fire.
‘‘We had two young girls come along and they were mentored during the process. By giving them a taste of it, hopefully next time they will be able to have a greater hands-on role,’’ he said.
As well as the Deakin group, Moama volunteers also helped to battle the fires.
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