‘Just one degree’: The difference between life and death
A RURAL Fire Service brigade captain has expressed disappointment in a lack of preparedness by some landowners ahead of one of the most dangerous days during last year's catastrophic fire season.
Speaking during the NSW Rural Fire Service's Get Ready weekend, Orara RFS Captain Tom Reeve said a majority of properties he visited on November 12 had in some ways been ill-equipped for the firestorm which had been predicted to rip through the region.
The Liberation Trail Fire had burnt more than 148,000 hectares of bushland and with catastrophic conditions predicted that day, the RFS was urging residents to evacuate.
"Only 33 per cent (of landowners) had easily accessible water close by so that we could fight the fire.
"It made it very difficult for us to say 'yes, we can defend this place'."
Simple steps like ensuring a fire truck could travel safely up the driveway or cleaning out gutters were all things which had been missed and Mr Reeve said some people were underestimating the risks.
Were it not for a one degree drop in temperature, Mr Reeve said just under half of the 33 people in the Valley who opted to stay on their property would have been at serious risk of harm.
"There were 15 people that had chosen what I considered to be dangerous decisions, their lives would have been at risk had that fire come this way," he said.
"That overnight temperature dropped an extra degree … so the fire took off a bit later - just one degree."
While early indications this year pointed to a much milder bushfire season, the risks are still ever present and the RFS Get Ready weekend is a chance for the organisation to interact with the community and help get across the importance of understanding those risks - and preparing.
Mr Reeve emphasised local RFS brigades were more than happy to answer questions and help community members better prepare, which he said was what being part of the community was all about.
"Our group here are always willing to talk to our neighbours because they are our neighbours," he said.
"We are all one community and we don't want people to die."
Showing off Orara's tanker to a bunch of excitable kids were young recruits Jemimah Reynolds and Luke Hunter-Moran.
Ms Reynolds has only been in the brigade since the beginning of the year and cites the devastating bushfire season as being the key inspiration to join up.
"I joined purely because of the impact the fires had on our community last year," she said.
"I just felt like it was time to give back to the community and I could see that the fireys needed the help."
Ms Reynolds already felt at home in the organisation which she said was filled with experienced members who were more than willing to share their knowledge.
As for the three Orara Valley youngsters Jesse, Mackenna and Elliett messing around in the tanker, they are all quite sure they will be joining up "when they are old enough".
"(The day was) really great," said Mackenna.
"I have been in a firetruck when (Captain) Tom came to my school."