Black Saturday lesson etched in our history

BENDIGO fire prevention officer Eric Smith says Black Saturday has permanently changed the community’s attitude toward fires.

Mr Smith was the first firefighter to arrive on the scene of the Bracewell Street fire that sparked five years ago, today.

He said the lessons from the 61 homes and one life lost in Bendigo loomed as a constant reminder for fire safety.

“It’s still vivid in my mind,” he said.

“It seems like it was yesterday. For firefighters and people that were directly involved it’s not something you forget.”

Mr Smith was Eaglehawk brigade captain at the time. He said he was still affected by the memories of the fire’s intensity and the way a sudden wind change brought it racing back past his fire truck.

“I was convinced we were going to lose a couple of firefighters on the day,” he said.

“It was certainly a scary day from where we were standing.”

"That morning I remember waking and I could feel it in my bones that it was going to be a very bad day." 

Mr Smith said despite their quick response to getting to Bracewell Street, he knew straight away there was no way of controlling it.

“We were fairly close to where it started," he said.

"As much as you think you're able to limit the fire, in those sort of conditions only nature can control it."

He said firefighters were there just before 4pm and battled the blaze through the night.

"It was a horrible feeling to think that someone did lose their life," he said. "But we could quite easily have lost more lives."

Mr Smith, who now works as the City of Greater Bendigo's fire prevention officer, said he was focused on preventing similar fires occurring again.

He said fire crews and the general public have both learnt valuable lessons in minimising the risks of bushfire.

“There’s no question in my mind that some of the work people have done has helped with preventing loss," he said.

"We'll have other big fires, there's no question. We'll lose houses again. But the focus is how we can limit the amount lost."

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