Remembering Black Saturday, 10 years on
TEN years ago Portland volunteers travelled across the state to help people devastated by what would become Australia’s worst fire tragedy.
A shocking 173 people died from the Black Saturday bushfires, with a further 414 injured, and 450,000 hectares of land burned.
Among those dozens of local emergency services volunteers giving up their day jobs to help out were Colin Malin, Mark Burridge, Kent Sluggett, Graeme Humphries, and the soon-to-move Ian Hamley.
Mr Humphries had nearly 20 years of experience fighting fires and joined volunteers from the region to form an initial strike team on a fire at Coleraine, defending a family home of then-Premier John Brumby during strong winds by chasing
the fire through trees and across paddocks for hours before they were relieved by another brigade.
Halfway across the state, Ian Hamley was a volunteer for “tin shed” brigade Raywood, 28km from Bendigo, and had been on high alert throughout the hot and gusty day.
At 4.30pm the temperature hit 46 degrees, and they received a call to attend a blaze in Bendigo.
A well-equipped city, Bendigo’s firefighters had been sent elsewhere.
“When we got there we couldn’t breathe, it was that hot – the fire was sucking the oxygen out of the air,” Mr Hamley said.
By the time their truck got close to their appointed fire scene, the street had been razed, and on their next attempt to defend four houses, the fire “jumped over us,” destroying them, too.
“The noise was like six jumbo jets; we had 80km/h winds, gusting to 100km/h,” he said.
“Bendigo had been in 10 years of drought; there was probably more (fire) fuel in the suburbs than in the bush, and it was spotting everywhere.”
Mr Hamley took consolation that he and his crew were able to save four houses on Maiden Gully Rd.