Ten years ago a fire ripped through the area around Redesdale. It burnt 7,086 hectares, destroyed sheds, 14 houses and kilometres of fencing.
Those on the ground say it was like no fire they had seen before or since.
In the months that followed the community of Redesdale pulled together to rebuild the devastated landscape.
Glenn Brown may have been the first to report the fire which began in the Coliban River gully.
He was then the captain of the Redesdale CFA brigade.
Within 15 or 20 minutes of seeing the fire it was unsafe to evacuate his property.
He turned the roof sprinklers on and began to defend the house with his wife and three people who had driven in for shelter.
“The fire came up from the Coliban river, over the ridge behind us, and swept down beside our property, and then along the road,” Mr Brown said.
Paul Atkins was at home near Redesdale on Black Saturday, trying to stay cool.
Now captain of the Redesdale CFA, he was first lieutenant at the time.
The first he heard of a fire was when a friend in Metcalf rang to say he could see smoke.
Mr Atkins drove just a couple of hundred metres, then could see the smoke.
He called Triple Zero and headed straight to the station, where he set the fire alarm.
The brigade assembled very quickly, Mr Atkins thinks the conditions meant members were on high alert.
Mr Atkins could see the fire’s intensity early on.
When the brigade first got to the fire front they paused to cut a fence for access.
At that stage the fire was 200 metres to their north. By the time they’d cut the fence it had raced past the brigade.
Constant pager alerts added to the intensity of the situation. Every time a Triple Zero call was placed the brigade got a page saying people were in houses.
Fighting the fire was “chaotic” Mr Atkins said.
In that situation the firefighters did what they could: saving assets.
At one point there were fears the blaze could enter the Redesdale township.
“We understood very early on that we weren’t going to stop the spread of the fire,” Mr Atkins said.
“Rather than trying to stop the fire we were trying to save assets.”
It wasn’t for three or four hours that they realised the scale of the fire. The front had split into five fingers, which raced away. The Redesdale brigade was fighting just one of those fingers.
Craig Brittain was on duty in Bendigo as operations officer during Black Saturday. He was sent out to become divisional commander for the Redesdale fire.
Then a firefighter for 20 years, he’d never seen a fire behave like the one at Redesdale.
Early notification from the Bureau of Meteorology had allowed firefighters in central Victoria to prepare for the conditions on the day. It was this that Mr Brittain believes meant Redesdale escaped the death toll of other parts of the state.
There was no features, everywhere you looked was just black, and blackened trees were smouldering.Glenn Brown
Even with preparation, being at the fire was surreal. Fighting a blaze that big and fierce was like the culmination of all Mr Brittain’s training.
“It was scary, just the wind, the noise, just the ferocity, the speed with with the fire went across paddocks,” Mr Brittain said.
It was through the “magnificent” and “courageous” efforts of CFA and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning that the fire was controlled.
“I’ve never seen two agencies ... who worked so well together with the single purpose goal of containing that fire and protecting the township of Redesdale,” Mr Brittain said.
“It was a very big day, a very tiring day, and everybody who was there that day should be very proud of themselves.”
After the blaze had subsided Redesdale was left in a state of “eery” isolation. The bridge over the Coliban had been burnt, making one of the main routes in and out of town unavailable. Many roads were impassable because of fallen trees.
Other parts of Victoria had been so badly hit by fire that there was almost no official response for a few days.
“There was no power, most didn’t have water because of the contamination of the ash and the smoke into the water supplies,” Mr Brown said.
“There was no features, everywhere you looked was just black, and blackened trees were smouldering.
“It just looked like a devastated landscape.”
The community’s reaction to the fire stood out for Mr Brown.
From lending out houses, to running kids to school, to cleaning up properties and repairing fencing, the community pulled together to get the basics sorted out.
“Being country people everybody helped everybody else,” he said.
“It was really pleasing, the amount of community spirit and community resilience that Redesdale showed in the face of that adversity.”
Even when the blaze was controlled the CFA was firefighting for weeks afterwards.
Even three months on, there was still work to be done. Spot fires could spring up where the roots of trees had been smouldering for months.
“It has impacted people a lot even ten years on. There’s still dead trees in paddocks from the fire ... People just don’t speak about it. It’s sort of passing into history,” Mr Brown said.
“The people who went through it will never forget it.”
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