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Pillar Valley RFS volunteer Steve Smith

‘It was exactly what hell would look like’

NOTHING could quite prepare Pillar Valley RFS volunteer Steve Smith for when he arrived at Nymboida on November 8, 2019.

"It was terrifying for a first, big firestorm," he said.

"We were driving out and the chatter on the radio was just daunting. The words 'evacuate' and 'get back to the main road' was all that was coming over the radio. As we got closer all you could see was this big, red glow on the range as you head into Nymboida and we all thought, 'geez what are we driving into?'

"It was exactly like what hell would look like."

Steve and his crew got as far as the Camping and Canoe Centre on Armidale Rd. It was there they saw the fire up close for the first time.

"You could just see the wall of flames, and fire trucks coming through the flames coming back to the Canoe Centre," he said.

"The spotovers that were coming were a good 20m in front of the fire and embers were dropping over the houses near there so we put those out.

"Then within two, three minutes, all hell broke loose. There were flames around 50-60 feet high and here we were standing here with this little hose thinking, 'what the f--- am I doing!?'."

 

Public recognition for the Pillar Valley Rural Fire Brigade and all firefighters for their efforts during the Liberation Trail fire.
Public recognition for the Pillar Valley Rural Fire Brigade and all firefighters for their efforts during the Liberation Trail fire.

Despite the terrifying experience, Steve said he was proud to be part of the team that saved the Canoe Centre from being completely destroyed.

"We only lost the one shed next to the main office. We couldn't really get into it and it had a lot of chemicals inside so all we could do was stand there with a hose trying to keep the shed cool as best we could and hope there were no explosions," he said.

Steve and his crew were not only battling embers burning inside the shed, they were also trying to avoid inhaling the toxic fumes coming from inside melted canoes and materials.

"We had to keep in mind to not breathe that in so we'd make sure to take turns walking away to breathe some fresh air away from the smoke," he said.

"There were a lot of people who said the Canoe Centre went down, that it was burnt, but I'm really proud that our crew saved it."

 

Listen to Steve tell his story in the episode 'Into The War Zone' of On The Frontline below: