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12 Dec 2019 10:35
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  •   Home > News > International

    A reporter's reflection on covering the bushfires in NSW and Queensland

    This was a week that will be hard to forget, where emergency warnings seemed to blend in to one another, writes Josh Bavas.


    I was expecting a quiet afternoon on November 8 — tidying up a few loose ends and making some final calls for the week — when I received a call from my mum about a fire near her house in suburban Brisbane.

    I knew there was a heightened fire danger across the state but this was a scenario I was least expecting.

    While it was brought under control by emergency crews and quick-thinking locals armed with garden hoses, it showed me a glimpse of the kind of fear people must experience when danger comes within reach of loved ones.

    Later that afternoon, an even greater monster would be bearing down on hundreds of people just south of the border in northern New South Wales.

    Within hours, I was witnessing the aftermath of the devastation the fire brought to a small community nestled in the once-pristine forest.

    In the tiny village of Wytaliba on the outskirts of Glen Innes, about 60 homes and sheds were destroyed in one afternoon.

    Two people tragically lost their lives in the blaze, which rolled through the surrounding forests, slamming straight into this community like "a ball of fire" as a police officer would later describe it.

    When we reached the entrance of the community the following day, we could see large trees still burning from the inside out — something I'd never seen before.

    At the local public school, I spotted a couple of dazed kangaroos standing in the smoky yard.

    Some horses survived too. They were trying to find a patch of green grass.

    ABC Camera operator Dean Caton and myself were the first media crew to reach the entrance to the community.

    We had chosen to go directly to Wytaliba after hearing reports on ABC local radio about the terrifying night experienced by locals both there and at nearby Nymboida.

    The road into the small village is long and winding — it took the best part of half an hour driving through the burnt-out forest just to get there.

    Almost every tree had been scorched back to its bare skeleton, with the exception of little pockets hidden in the curves of the descending track.

    I was mindful of the risks after a fire like this, such as falling gumtrees collapsing under their own weight.

    Later, when we arrived, we could hear the distant thuds of exactly that.

    Fire services around the country provide training and accreditation to news teams to ensure we stay safe while covering bushfires.

    I've done the training every year, and we had a safety kit including protective clothing, helmets, goggles, masks and blankets for when we were inside the fire zone.

    Because police were only beginning to sweep through the town, we decided to stay near the emergency staging point and not go any further.

    We filmed what we could — a home reduced to ashes, the smouldering school building and police officers on motorbikes checking for anyone who may have been injured or even worse.

    There was no signal to make a phone call or text, let alone send out vision or file lines for a digital story.

    Read more about how we produce the news on ABC Backstory:

    One thing that struck me was just how close these homes were to the thick forest surrounding them.

    Mayor Carol Sparks told me the following day that her granddaughter witnessed the bridge into town "exploding" in the heat.

    After filming what we could, we began the long drive back to Glen Innes to feed out our vision, finalise a script, record a voice and prepare for a live cross into the evening TV news to share what we had seen.

    This was a week that will be hard to forget — where emergency warnings seemed to blend in to one another.

    It was a week that took me to New South Wales and back to Queensland to follow the severe weather, which looks set to continue for months with authorities around the country warning of "unprecedented" and "catastrophic" bushfire conditions.

    But it gave me a greater understanding of the logistical effort that goes in to protecting communities everywhere — whether that's large regional towns or smaller villages on the rural outskirts.

    And it showed me fire does not care about a postcode.


    ABC




    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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