IN A FEW heart-stopping moments during Black Saturday Brendan Drechsler watched a CFA truck vanish into the flames as the Maiden Gully blaze jumped a road.
Both that tanker and one the one then-CFA first lieutenant was riding in were racing towards the fire’s ignition point in Bracewell Street, but the front had already spread two kilometers.
Mr Drechsler was part of a wave of CFA crews descending on the blaze as temperatures soared towards 45 degrees and strong winds buffeted the state.
“A tree’s 30 or 40 foot high and they were just a ball of fire. It wasn’t burning the grass, it was burning the tops of the trees, taking everything in its wake,” Mr Drechsler said.
“That’s when the truck went past us. They were fifty meters in front of us and I thought they were fully engulfed.”
Thankfully, the tanker and its crew made it through unscathed.
Ben McCooke was on Sedgwick Brigade’s tanker two with Mr Drechsler. In 30 years fighting fires he had never seen a blaze like it.
“Places you’d never think would burn did,” he said.
Tanker two would not have been one of the first to respond to the Bendigo fire, but resources were already stretched by deployments to Redesdale. So the small truck and its crew of three left the station.
“At the time the fire didn’t seem that significant. Once we got to One Tree Hill and saw the huge plume of smoke on the horizon we knew it was a major fire and that it had gained a lot of speed,” Mr McCooke said.
He, Mr Drechsler and fellow crew member Darryl Glover saved properties in Maiden Gully before running out of water.
“It was such a hectic time. We ended up in Long Gully at the BP service station. There was fire around the houses at the creek there,” Mr McCooke said.
Then an urgent call came through for any truck available. The fire had jumped Eaglehawk Road and a shed had caught alight.
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Tanker two, which had been purchased earlier that decade in large part through community funds, stopped the flames spreading past Eaglehawk Road.
“I tell you, the little truck proved itself that day,” Mr Drechsler said.
“If the fire had of got a hold there it would have kept going down into Holmes Road towards the Bendigo Showground, because there was a bit of a wind change that would have blown it that way,” Mr Drechsler said.
He said it was a proud moment for the brigade, though he emphasised it was just one of many acts firefighters performed that day.
There was something else Mr Dreschler remembered about the hour or so spent at Eaglehawk Road.
“It was bloody scary. I’ve never been so scared in my life,” he said.
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