HELICOPTERS buzzing overhead, the roar of flames in the distance and embers falling around them in an acrid smoke haze – it was no ordinary work day for Griffith’s Rural Fire Service (RFS) strike team.
The crew of 19 men and women from across the region was stationed on the Bells Lines of Road last week, battling the monstrous blaze that ripped across the Blue Mountains.
They were deployed on Monday and returned on Friday, with another crew of 16 sent up on Thursday to relieve them.
Now that he’s home, exhausted crew member John Payne – who has served on the Widgelli Brigade for about nine years – said he wouldn’t think twice about going back.
Mr Payne said the 12-hour days and rough nights camping on stretchers were made worthwhile by the outpouring of community thanks.
“Everyone was clapping and cheering, patting us on the back,” Mr Payne said.
“We’d get back after a shift and all the local businesses would give us food – they really looked after us.”
But without a doubt, the hundreds of volunteer firefighters who risked their lives to save those communities deserved the thanks.
Back-burning was one of the main efforts the crews were responsible for, veteran RFS volunteer and Whitton Brigade Captain Rodney Ryan said.
“It was pretty full on,” Mr Ryan said.
“But we had a good team with a mix of experienced and less-experienced firefighters.”
Mr Ryan said the team worked in conjunction with about 40 other trucks from NSW and Victoria.
While helicopters dropped water on the blazes, firefighters would battle 150 metres through the scrub with hoses to extinguish the flames.
“It was exhausting,” Mr Ryan said.
“You do it to help out your community.”
Mr Ryan has battled dozens of blazes during his 30 years in the RFS, including the Black Christmas fires, the Victorian bushfires, and Dubbo, Snowy Mountains and Canberra bushfires.