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2 weeks ago

Fireground Leadership & Training

Our hearts are breaking for our Forestry colleague Andrew Condie, who has worked in partnership with us many times over the years at Forestry fire training camps. We are so glad Andrew and Katrina and their family are safe but this story gives us a glimpse of what it is like for our frontline personnel and their families.Morning everyone. I haven’t been very active on this page as working in marketing now, but maybe one day will get back into journalism.
People of the south coast are going through hell and back right now. It’s so heartbreaking. But we are strong, we’ve been through lots of shit together as a community and, again, we will rise from the ashes (literally).
I have friends that have lost everything, family and friends displaced, still fighting fire and facing fire and a wonderful community doing all they can for others... Friends, neighbours and total strangers.
This is just my little world at the moment...

We have lost our home at Conjola Park.
Apart from a few things that my ‘prepper’ daughter Sienna insisted on taking to town when we went in to drop her friend home in the morning of NYE, we have nothing. She took a couple of bags of special things everywhere we went for the past two weeks. That morning, when she woke, she had a feeling our house would burn down that day. She suggested we take stuff and I said it would be ok and that we would be back home soon. She was right and her little collection of stuff is all we have from our home that we built 25 years ago.

When Andrew left for work that morning, he said, today’s gunna be bad. Keep the kids and dog with you at all times. I was thinking in case of road closures which had been happening on and off and had left us stranded in town a couple of times. He had been up and down all night taking calls from his Forestry workmates who were preparing for a disaster day around Nelligen and Batemans Bay. Andre whas been working on fires up the north coast, then south for four months. He had rarely been home and, when he was, it was to try and sleep, wash clothes and repack his fire kit. He was working 14 hour days, up to seven days in a row, with one day off here and there. He missed all the kids end of year activities- presentation day, concerts, dances, including our youngest daughter Grace being announced school captain at Milton Public School for 2020. We were so proud. I cried because he wasn’t there to watch. He was home Christmas Eve and had dinner with my family. He was on the phone the whole time! Christmas morning we all got up at 5am and opened presents. The kids and I got new mountain bikes that he had assembled the day before. He opened his gifts, put them in a pile, had a coffee and, with ham sandwiches, kissed us and left for the impending day of hell one hour south of us. Later that morning my mum and nephew and Andrew’s family joined us for morning tea. Before they came I tidied up the house and unpacked our ‘escape boxes’ containing all our special stuff. Paperwork, family heirlooms, Grace’s swimming medals, trinkets from holidays, photos, hard drive, kids baby things, kids art work etc... we were safe now. I put everything back in its place. Meanwhile, while we were having cupcakes and coffee, Andrew and his team were putting in containment lines to try stop the fire on the Clyde Mountain reaching the coast. Christmas night at Andrew’s sisters was spent without him. I took him home a plate of goodies and pavlova which he ate at 10pm when he got in. At 4.30am he was up and heading off again on boxing day. This has been his life, our life for months. Every night he has told me how his team was able to save property, save homes and even lives in remote areas of bush land. He was also upset when they lost property or life. He was exhausted, physically and mentally. Apart from his amazing work mates, he hadn’t seen friends for months.
It went on like this and the girls and I just got on with our lives. It was too smokey to do much, so we mainly stayed indoors. Didn’t ride our new bikes. Sienna had a friend over the night before NYE. They all slept on the floor and watched movies. When we got up, it was so smokey from back burns that had been lit the day before, around Pointer Mountain and Porters Creek Rd to the west and north west of us. Andrew was worried about his Dad’s farm on Porter’s Creek Rd, but was running the southern sector now called the Clyde Mountain Fire, so had to leave and go to work, while his dad and other family members prepared the farm for a shit day ahead.
I was in town, at Sienna’s friends house having a coffee, when my neighbour called. She was home with her two sons. Her husband in Sydney working. She was screaming: Katrina we can see flames from the end of our street, where are you, what do we do? She was with our next door neighbours, a beautiful young couple, who have been building their house for the past year or so. Slowly, by themselves. He is a carpenter and has put so much love into their first home.
I told them to just get out. I rang Andrew who had handed over at work and was heading to his dad’s farm which was alight. He told me his work depot had burnt down in Batemans Bay and he lost heaps of his personal stuff. He raced home through the bush, lights on his little fire Ute. As he drove past Conjola towards the farm, five mins up the road, he saw smoke near our village. He called me and said he was worried for our house. He yelled there’s a fire in Kurrajong Crescent, the street behind ours, and he hung up. I was in shock, but still thought it would be ok.
My neighbours rang again. They had passed Andrew on the road and he told them to keep going as fire was approaching fast. They got to the turn off and were stopped, along with dozens of others. They couldn’t get out. Some were turned around and told to go back to the beach. My good friend with her son in car drive through flames, crying on the phone to her husband that they were going to die. She made it to the beach. Her husband stayed home to fight fires that luckily passed behind their property. My neighbours were finally escorted north, through flames to Sussex Inlet. They were safe.
From Mollymook we watched the black plumes rising as Conjola burned. I had no idea what was going on or where Andrew was. Reality hit. We may actually lose our home. We could lose him.
We were fortunate to be at the home of our loving friends who supported, watered and fed us. I saw a post on Facebook that our friends in Little Forest Rd has lost their home. I burst into tears. We all did.
About an hour later I got the call we had been dreading. Our home was gone, along with as many as 80 others just in our little little hamlet. The fire had come from both the west and north west. Two fires that met and turned into a fire storm right near our home. Andrew has fought fires all around the country and overseas. He was in the thick of it at Tahthra and Pappenbarra on the north coast. He managed up to 3000 troops on a massive fire in the US last year. He has never seen anything like it. Before the flames even got to our street, the home opposite exploded and the roof blew 10 metres in the air. This is where my distraught neighbour was going to seek shelter with her two young boys before thankfully getting out. Andrew had been putting out spot fires around our homes and on our roof. He ran into the house and drank water, grabbed his bagpipes and threw them in his car. He thought it was going to be ok, but turned to see a wall of flame coming over the hill from the other side. Again, before the flames hit, the windows in our house blew out from radiant heat. His shed and its contents melted. Our caravan went up in 20 seconds. With his slip-on fire fighting unit he put out a fire on a nearby verandah and raced to save the last home that he could see standing. He rang and told me everything was gone, but after that call he managed to save the home that has been passionately built by the sweetest young couple you could meet. He covered it in foam, dragged away burning timber and put our spot fires. It still stands, even the bee hive!! There’s washing on the line and veggies in the garden. I didn’t know it had survived and gave my neighbours the news via phone. They was distraught, but thankful to be alive after their harrowing drive through flames to safety. Later on I called to say their house was safe and, again, we all bawled.
Andrew headed down the road towards the lake to seek shelter. It was dark and smokey. He found a lady running with a towel over her head and dragged her into his car. He found bunches of people standing in the street watching the fire come towards them. Four trips were made back and forth ferrying people to the lake. The last trip he just threw people into the back of his Ute, while others held onto the sides and ran or stood on the side steps as he drove slowly to the lake. He got them off as other cars drove into the lake to escape. There was no warning. It happened so fast. Everyone was terrified.
With only 100 litres of water left in his tank, enough to save himself if he was overrun by fire, he headed for his sister’s house around the corner, which was safe, then to his parents house down the other end of the lake. He drove through flames on both sides of the road not knowing if his mum was out of the house. His dad was still at the farm. His mum and sister, along with three dogs and a cat, were huddled under a blanket at the beach, with hundreds of locals and visitors to our popular tourist destination. He used the last of his water to put out some spot fires near his parents house and knew it would be ok. He left and headed to town to find us. Called his dad who was safe and said most of the farm had burnt, but everyone was safe, including the cows, and one old cottage had been spared. Andrew’s pop’s little timber house, where he had lived after returning from WWII, was gone.
The girls and I were at our friends place in Mollymook still. Our other Little Forest ‘refugees’ came. We hugged, we cried, we celebrated life and our community. More friends arrived. Two families not knowing if their homes were lost. We learned the next day, that one was saved, the other was gone.
At about 7pm Andrew appeared black-faced, pale, a walking zombie. After saving other homes for months, working his arse off and completely exhausted, he was shattered to have not been able to save ours. We all hugged and cried more. He ate for the first time that day. His lunch was still in his office at the bay. Our good friend Matt cooked us all a huge barbecue feast as we had no power. It was horrible and beautiful at the same time.
We went back to mum’s in Ulladulla for the night. Andrew had no clothes, only the fire suit and fire boots he was wearing. Our good friend opened his shop the next morning and gave him jeans, shirts and undies.
Early on New Year’s Day, we left the girls at mum’s and we went ‘home’. In the fire vehicle we were able to get through. I felt sick driving out. I wanted to go back. I fought off the feeling of panic. As we drove from Milton through blackened paddocks, it was like a war zone. The road was deserted and home were razed all around, including the beautiful farmhouse owned by our former mayor Max Atkins and his wife. Only the brick chimney remained. We drove up the hill towards Conjola turn off and I could see the Yattah Nursery was gone as was the historic school house where Andrew’s dad went to school. We later learned that Frank and Lynn from the nursery survived, however the old gentleman that lived in the school master’s cottage didn’t make it.
We turned into entrance road and from there on it was total devastation. Andrew’s cousin’s home was gone and so many others. I lost count. I cried. As we got closer to our street I sat, frozen in disbelief. We pulled up in front of house. A pile of ash and twisted metal. I have no words. We got out and hugged and cried some more. Walked around and tried to find anything. Trees and timber were still smouldering. All around, homes were razed. Half a home in our street survived, and the neighbours little blue house and bee hive sat alone surrounded by blackness. A ‘cooked’ tomato in the veggie garden was the only splash of colour. We left, we caught up with friends and family whose homes survived. We cried more and we left.
Since that day we have been overwhelmed with love and support. Generous offers of accommodation, clothing, food and vouchers, stuff for the kids. It’s incredible. A lady I barely know has sponsored Grace for school supplies, uniforms, fees, excursions for the whole year!!!! Another friend gave us a $500 voucher for sports power to buy joggers and sports gear for the kids. People have given cash, Sienna’s friend’s dad gave her a guitar... it just goes on and on and on.... amazing, heart warming and we are just lost for words.
The girls are doing surprisingly well and staying so strong. We are all pleased to have Pumpkin our dog who has been the recipient of many tearful cuddles. We haven’t been able to see Andrew’s family yet and very limited phone contact. He can’t wait to see his mum and dad and they can’t wait to see him and the kids.
Thanks to the ladies at Raine & Horne where I work, we have a temporary home in Mollymook by the beach. We can see the beach and today we are going to take the girls down for a swim and try and chill. We’ll stay here in this fully furnished holiday cottage until the R&H girls find us a permanent rental for 12 months. With a yard for Pumpkin.
Anyway, that’s my story. It helped to get it out. So many people have been asking and I have been telling parts of it over and over again. It’s a bit of a rant, typed on my phone as the thought came after a few hours sleep. I think my brain is finally processing everything.
Thanks again to everyone for the support and my thought are with everyone else in our situation. Together our community will rebuild and we will come out the other side stronger and closer.
Not for MEDIA publication without prior written permission.
Kx (sorry there’s prob a million typos as I’m using my phone and I haven’t edited it).
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As news of our fire tragedy continues to go global, I would like to Share this great artwork from a friend of our family, Pierre Seillier, a Froggy mate who is a true friend of all Aussies, Thank you for your tribute to our firefighters.
Pierre is a passionate Frenchman from Fromelles who devotes his life to commemorating Australians who fought in the wars. His research and commemoration is extraordinary. Pierre has given us permission to share with acknowledgement to his artistic skill.
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3 weeks ago

Fireground Leadership & Training

As we finish off 2019 and come into the new year, whilst watching fireworks, or spending time with friends and family, please take a moment to spare a thought for all of those fighting fires, escaping fires, or experiencing loss from fire.

Wherever you are be safe, and as hard as it will be for many, we wish you a very safe and happy new year.

#happynewyear #sendinglove #thinkingofallaffectedbyfire #sobering #staysafe #lookaftereachother #herestoabetter2020
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4 weeks ago

Fireground Leadership & Training

Always available when you need them. Love to our fire brigade family❤️❤️❤️Our opening hours over Christmas and New Year’s
#NeverClosed #PreparedForAnything #ProtectingTheIrreplaceable #MoreThanFire #NSWFires
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