Volunteer firefighters have reinforced the importance of bushfire survival plans as they describe the speed at which fire engulfed Tathra homes on Sunday.
“There were lit embers hitting you in the back of the head,” Tanja Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade captain Andrew Constable said on Tuesday morning after two days fighting back flames.
“You could hear gas bottles popping off, and venting like a jet engine about ten metres away,” he said.
“There was fire everywhere.”
Mr Constable said the initial crew of four volunteers arrived at Sanctuary Place at around 3pm, joining the Tathra Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade, as flames quickly moved from the bush into backyards.
“Once the fire came out of that bush we knew we had to get out of there, it was just too dangerous,’ he said.
High flames and low water pressure made controlling the fire difficult, Mr Constable said, but the crew managed to save a number of houses as they attacked as many spot fires as they could along the street.
“I heard our group leader tell us to save what we could,” he said.
“The next day was more organised, but we just picked a spot and focused on it.
“There was plenty to do without being told what to do.”
As captain, Mr Constable said as soon as the crew arrived he was “thinking ahead because our truck is out of water in minutes”.
“It becomes a mothership that needs an umbilical cord. It needs a hydrant quickly, and after that becomes difficult to move,” he said.
The crew were also joined by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Fire and Rescue, as spot fires appeared all around them.
“We saved one house, which in another few minutes would have been gone,” Mr Constable said.
“I grabbed a bit of charcoal and wrote ‘Tanja’ on the wall.”
The captain of three years said the crew were not paged, or called to attend, but gathered at the Tanja Fire Shed after seeing smoke “bellowing” from the bush.
“We need to accept that this kind of fire is going to happen,” Mr Constable said.
“At some point you have to make a call, be responsible for yourself, think it through, and visualise how it could play out.”
He said many gutters were alight due to not being cleaned, and reinforced the need for families to have a bushfire survival plan in place.
“They [authorities] weren’t even aware Tathra would get hit, I reckon,” he said.
“I find with people wanting warnings, when it’s hot like that, then that’s the warning.”
The crew were preparing themselves for the chance the fire front may be pushed north by a southerly wind change on Sunday night, struggling to sleep, knowing they were tasked with an early morning start on Monday.
“There’s nothing certain about fire, it’s unpredictable,” Mr Constable said. “There’s no easy answer to any of it.”