Three men who led volunteers against the Sir Ivan fire have spoken about the horrors that faced them that day.
Leadville Fire Brigade captain Stephen Yeo, deputy group captain Simon Archer and group captain Tony Waldron were all on duty on the weekend of February 11 and 12, when the Sir Ivan fire tore through more than 50,000 hectares of land east of Leadville.
One month on, the men have shared their experiences through the Rural Fire Service (RFS)’s social media, and faced up to some of the criticism that has flown in the aftermath of Sir Ivan.
“Despite everything we tried to do, it was bigger than us,” Mr Archer said.
“It was fantastic we were able to save houses. And some houses we couldn’t save, some just were unsavable when it swept through on Sunday afternoon.
I was terrified ... I hope I never stand in front of a fire like that again.Simon Archer
“I was terrified … I hope I never stand in front of a fire like that again.”
The fire went on to burn more than 55,000 hectares of land and destroyed 35 homes, 131 outbuildings, a community hall and a church. The village of Uarbry was almost wiped out.
Mr Waldron said conditions on the Saturday night had been like a blistering summer’s day.
“It was having spot activity of 50 to 100 metres, wind varying … it would blow from nothing up to a 15 k from a different direction,” he said.
“Fuel loading was high of grass, the timber mountain country … the plan was try not to induce much more fire and keep it where it was, and that’s basically what we did.”
Hundreds of livestock were also destroyed. Mr Yeo said it was lucky there was no loss of human life.
“The trouble with protecting assets on a fire ground is that it’s a small community we live in and people want to save as much as they can,” he said.
“There were houses and buildings saved but if you put a team of men in front of the fire to save a house or a structure … and we lost a whole team it would, I don’t know how the community would go on afterwards.”
“We’ve been criticised by those who probably don’t know and haven’t experienced it,” Mr Archer said.
“But … we did what we could and I’m proud of what we did. Yeah, very proud.”