Fire brings the spark needed in dark days

Fire trucks gathering in the area near the Woko fire form their own community on the fire ground. Photo Kim Wiesner.
Fire trucks gathering in the area near the Woko fire form their own community on the fire ground. Photo Kim Wiesner.

In an interesting twist, the recent bushfires have provided an uplifting reprieve to drought for some residents of the Barnard River valley.

John Hannaford is a fourth generation beef cattle farmer and has been a volunteer rural fire fighter since the mid-80s, so he's seen his share of drought and bushfire.

He's one of many volunteers, working during the day and fighting fire through the night, since lightning struck Ridge 400 in September.

Since then there has been fire at Woko National Park and Giro, with the Giro fire joining the Rumba Complex fire November which has burnt close to 155,000 hecatres.

Despite being exhausted from the hours and the heat, John has realised there's something really positive lurking underneath.

"It just occurred to me when I was talking about it recently, how the fires provide a sense of community," John explained. "Working with people under those conditions, night after night, it really brings people together."

Typically producers in the region manage drought on their properties individually, and when times are bad like it has been, it can lead people down a dark path of isolation and depression. But when it comes fighting fires, people tend to work together, forming a community in which they socialise and communicate regularly.

Fire burning near Bretti in November. Photo supplied

Fire burning near Bretti in November. Photo supplied

"Everyone is calling each other and checking in regularly," John said.

"I've got to know people a lot better and there's a real sense of community."

For John, it's about finding the positive in a really tough time.

"It's a good example of what Aussie's can do," he smiled.

When on the fire ground, crews get a chance to banter and laugh, providing a welcome break from the isolating drought.

"It made me think, wow, isn't this good, to see people to happy and jovial. Many are doing it hard in the drought.

"As weird as it is, as bad as it is, it's not all doom and gloom."

It's a interesting escape from the depression of drought which producers have no control over.

With fire they can at least have little wins. These wins can be anything from catching an ember before it causes too much damage or protecting someone's property.

Even though the fires have been burning for a long time, and will continue to burn until there's significant rain due to the dense bushland in the national park, according to John so far, no homes have been lost.

The fire has burnt parts of Kim Wiesner's land. Photo supplied.

The fire has burnt parts of Kim Wiesner's land. Photo supplied.

But the threat to homes is far from over and for resident Kim Wiesner, it's been dancing around the edges of her property.

"We've been packed up for a while and have left a few times," Kim said. "The smoke's been really thick, our house smells like an ashtray and the walls are tinged yellow. We'll need to repaint when this is over."

During fires fences get damaged and for Kim, it means her cattle have gone walkabout.

"I'm over it," she said. "After working all day, I head home to chase cattle."

Despite the inconvenience, Kim can't thank the RFS enough.

"Without them, four of us wouldn't have homes. They've been working non-stop."

Since it all began, there have been times when the fires have reached emergency level and times when it just trickles along. John said the last month has been really full-on with the fire coming out into the open and onto the dry grass.

Crews are continuing to monitor the fire.