Helpers still in awe of crisis
TOMORROW marks one year to the day that the most devastating fires in Australian history razed dozens of Victorian townships claiming 173 lives.
As dawn broke that fateful Saturday, an intense heatwave sent temperatures soaring into the high 40s while 100km/h winds swept hundreds of small fires into several massivefirestorms obliterating all life in their path.
Another 414 people were injured, 2029 houses were destroyed, and at least 7500 people were left homeless.
As the news of the Black Saturday catastrophe spread, Northern Rivers residents swung into action organising emergency food, clothing, supplies and blood donations.
Hundreds of local firefighters lined up to assist, with relief crews flying in and out of Ballina airport for weeks.
Northern Rivers Rural Fire Service superintendent Boyd Townsend was straight on a plane arriving at Kinglake the day after Black Saturday.
“To say it was intense would be an understatement,” he said.
“At that stage the death toll was unknown and we were just starting to look at the burnt-out cars and houses.
“My role was to co-ordinate the media, keep them safe and make sure the stories were told respectfully – which the journalists did well.
“I didn’t see the news for two weeks but I got to hear the long versions of many stories first-hand, which was very confronting.”
Supt Boyd met many people traumatised by the catastrophe, and one year later was still visibly affected by it.
“There were many sad things to see and everyone who went will have their memories,” he said.
“I remember a young woman, alone with three very young children, putting a box of baked beans into her car.
“That drove it home to me.
“I knew it was all they had and I thought ‘what’s the story there’? But there was another story like that every five minutes.
“Tomorrow is a time to reflect. We will be thinking of them this weekend.”