19 January, 2020
By SJA Jafri (Courtesy ABC News)
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News was this week given access to an RFS helicopter for a flyover of the region, which has been decimated by the massive Green Wattle Creek and Morton fires.
As the smoke gradually lifts after weeks of relentless bushfires, the scope of the destruction is emerging.
This area, just east of Wingello, has been nicknamed “Ground Zero” by firefighters.
The dark blues and charcoal look like an abstract painting, not the bush we’re used to.
Usually, the only vivid colours in the Australian bush come from glimpses of birds darting through the tree line, or sprouts of native flora. But this year, a new colour has become a regular in the Australian landscape, the red-pink colour of fire retardant.
RFS Southern Highlands Group Captain Andrew Beville was in the air with the ABC during the flyover.
“It’s carnage,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this for 31 years and I’ve never seen bushland where the trees have become sticks.
“Not on this scale, never, not even a little critter could survive that.
“I’ve grown up in the bush and when you see there’s nothing left in those places it leaves you wondering, you know, how does an ecosystem recover from this?”
His wife fixes him a coffee and he tries not to wake up his young children in the house before he heads off for the day.
A stonemason by trade from the Southern Highlands town of Colo Vale, he’s lived in the area most of his life.
But for the past six weeks, he’s not thought about work. It’s been hard to even think about family. He’s had one thing on his mind.
“The fires, where they’re moving, what’s next.
“You’re focused on protecting the community, that’s it.”
Since the start of summer — similar to thousands of volunteer firefighters across the country — Beville, like a superhero, has taken on another persona.
He’s what’s known as an air attack supervisor. The role sees him in a helicopter, for hours every day, coordinating the aerial firefighting helicopters.
“You’re the link,” he said. “The intelligence. You’re making sure you’re providing a safe environment for people on the ground and in the air.”
Friends of his have lost their homes. His other mates, like him, have given up their jobs to fight.
The recent rain has given the RFS force in the area a few days off — for some the first real days to catch their breath in months.
“To be honest with ya mate, I’m just hanging on,” he said.
“You crawl into bed at midnight, and you’re back up again at 5:00am. It’s been tough. But I’m not alone, there’s thousands of us doing the same thing.”
He said there was one thing keeping him going.
“The appreciation of the community,” he said.