Catastrophic fires raging in Australia have claimed seven lives in the past few days, taking the toll to at least 17 lives lost this bushfire season. Fears are held for the safety of two people still missing in fire-ravaged areas. A 72-year-old man at Belowra, about 50km (31 miles) northwest of Cobargo, is still missing, along with a 70-year-old woman at Conjola Park.
Australia is still burning, with no signs of conditions easing up.
At least 200 homes and hundreds of buildings have been destroyed on the southern coast of New South Wales (N.S.W.), Australia in what is being described as the country’s worst fire season on record.
N.S.W. Fire and Rescue Commissioner Paul Baxter said one strike team was protecting a property near Nowra when they were overrun by fire on Tuesday, Dec. 31. A truckload of Central Coast firefighters from Station 509 in Wyoming then entered the firestorm to assist the strike team.
“For a good hour and a half, us four were the only crew we knew were alive,” Jasper Croft, one of the firefighters on the truck, told Nine’s Today Show.
“The second truck that failed on us, we had no idea for a long time, no radio comms, no nothing. We thought we had at least eight fatalities until we got further on. We only escaped by a media car that just came in, and we said ‘get us out of here,'” said Croft.
The crew from Fire and Rescue NSW Station 509 Wyoming recorded this video showing the moment their truck was overrun by the bushfire burning South of Nowra. The crew was forced to shelter in their truck as the fire front passed through. #NSWFires #ProtectTheIrreplaceable pic.twitter.com/Hb0yVrefi9
— Fire and Rescue NSW (@FRNSW) December 31, 2019
Grant Fitzgerald, the truck driver, said they were lucky to escape with their lives.
“We made the decision to pull the pin, turn around. And we were just fortunate to get out of there. My biggest concern was my crew at that time. It happened very quickly, and we were just fortunate to get out. All of us here today are, you know, it’s amazing that we made it,” he said.
The air had become so hot it was just exploding, and in the video, one of the firefighters, Danny Field, could be heard calling out, “Jasper, put the blanket up.”
“The heat on the outside of the truck is just like a radiator, coming through the window. Yeah, it was pretty intense. So I just thought I would get a blanket around us to protect us, it was pretty hairy at this stage, yeah, very hairy,” said Field.
Although conditions were terrifying, Field said there was no panic from the crew. “It just comes naturally in the end because you do it so often. It was just training.”
Ervin Blancaflor, another crew member, said he had total faith in the rest of the team to get them out alive.
“It was pretty scary, but I trusted my crew and everything and got out of there, we got there safe.
“We had to abandon one of our trucks because the brakes failed, and we couldn’t move. Two of the other crews, their trucks, burnt out. And the other crew, their brakes failed as well—we haven’t seen [ours] yet,” said Blancaflor, reports NineNews.
The Australian Navy has deployed two ships to provide relief and support where they can.
HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore have sailed from Sydney, on their way to provide support to bushfire relief efforts on NSW South Coast and NE Victoria. Navy also continues to provide helicopters and support to @NSWRFS aerial operations.#AustralianNavy #AustraliaFires #OurCommunity pic.twitter.com/PHWp8L0Tvy
— Chief of Navy Australia (@CN_Australia) January 1, 2020