Page 135

have a good look at the front, then set him back down.

communications that came over the airwaves. The radio

The radio communications that I had were as much

The vollie then had a better understanding of what they

chatter at the DFES office was incessant. It had become

about offering a familiar voice and a calm demeanour,

were facing and where the units could go.

the central nervous system of operations, where all

as they were about the assisting the flow of information.

incoming and outgoing communications were received We could see people on the ground defending buildings

and dispatched. There were no brigade officers on

At one point, someone had asked me what would

as the fire swept in, hovering above as owners fought to

channel as they were too busy fighting, so I manned the

happen. My reply was something along the lines of

save a building on one side, only to see tonnes of fire

radio. The chatter was thick and fast, and the channel

‘There will be a lot of volunteers on the ground out there

and flame roaring towards them on the other. The fire

was so busy that conversations were running into each

and once the fire has come through they will be right in

trucks and volunteers would then come belting in to help

other. There was a volley of information and requests to

there behind it, mopping up and doing the absolute best

defend the property.

be acted upon, often requiring phone calls to be made,

they can. You just have to trust and believe, that they will

before we could get back to those waiting in desperation

be in there.’

It was as we flew over the fire, that I spotted the enormous

at the other end of the radio.

cloud of smoke and dust to the west. The sight of the front

I kept this in mind as the afternoon continued, knowing

from the air is something I will never forget. The sheer

Late in the afternoon, I received communications from

full well the possible implications of a fire of this intensity,

darkness and immensity of the smoke cloud had me

Salmon Gums. The people waiting in the town were

yet silently hoping I would be wrong.

awestruck. At the same time, the heat from being over

terrified, as reports came in that the fire front was

the top of the Merivale Fire, plus the heated air streaming

imminent. There were moves for evacuation to occur

I was in the DFES office that evening, when the first fatality

from the Cascade front, made the inside of the chopper

from where people had gathered on the oval. I managed

report came through. It just stunned everybody. Earlier

akin to a furnace. Just touching the aircraft’s metal frame

to get a call through to people up at the front, asking

while up in the chopper and faced with the maelstrom to

felt like my skin was getting burnt off my leg. As we made

them where the fire was and where it was headed. After

the west, I had thought about how many people could

our way back into town, the strength of the wind against

confirming that the town wasn’t under immediate threat, I

possibly die. I had been living with the thought, right

the chopper was phenomenal. We seemed to struggle to

got back to my contact in Salmon Gums.

up until that very moment. I had almost thought we had

make headway.

gotten away with it. It was a gut-wrenching feeling to Trying to calm the situation, I told them I had spoken to

have my worst fears realised.

Back in town, the Shire CEO had organised someone

people at the head of the fire and not to panic. Where

to call people on landlines and evacuate the area

they were, being as safe as they could ever be, and to

By Tuesday midnight, an evacuation to Esperance from

threatened by the now out of control Cascade blaze. All I

please relay the message along.

Salmon Gums had been decided upon. It was to occur

could do was sit and listen to the calls and the constant

early on Wednesday morning, and I was asked to go

TOM BROWN | pg 133

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Our Bushfire Recovery Story  

"Our Bushfire Recovery Story" is a memoir of community strength & resilience. As part of the Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore Project, an invita...

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"Our Bushfire Recovery Story" is a memoir of community strength & resilience. As part of the Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore Project, an invita...