Firefighters tell of coalfields inferno

WITH one gust of wind, a waist-high scrub fire went from being almost contained to an out-of-control inferno, monstering three volunteer firefighters who escaped the radiant heat while hearing the ‘‘freight train’’ pounding on behind them.

Greta Rural Fire Service brigade captain Neville ‘Ned’ Roberts and  members Sarah Holz and David Seabrook were captured in an image at the Aberdare bushfire on Friday that epitomised the horrific conditions firefighters faced on the hottest day on record. Only moments earlier, the trio believed they may be able to hinder the fire’s  progress by watering down scrub as the waist-high flames licked at tree trunks and bush.

‘‘There was a gust of wind and I said to Sarah we best get out of there, so we got out and started winding the hoses up, that’s when the whole place just exploded,’’ Mr Seabrook said.

‘‘It sounded like a freight train coming and we looked back and just saw this massive wall of red and black. [The radiant heat] made the chin strap on my helmet feel like it had melted on to my face, it was extreme.

‘‘... We  didn’t expect it to explode like that.’’

The image, published on the front of Saturday’s Newcastle Herald, shows Mr Seabrook halfway into the driver’s seat of the fire truck. The other two quickly joined him and they drove out of the paddock off Melbourne Street and to safety. Mr Roberts, a veteran of 32 years fighting fires,  succumbed to the 46-degree heat and was taken to John Hunter Hospital for treatment. He left  later that night.

The other two were joined by another brigade member and continued to fight the blaze, which had threatened houses at Aberdare, Kearsley and Neath, until 3am the following day.

But the  volunteers stressed it was the efforts of the 180-strong emergency services crew, including Fire and Rescue NSW, the Rural Fire Service, police and ambulance, that helped stave off disaster.

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