How a tiny community beat the fire - with help from not so high above

Top Naas Road neighbours band together to stave off Orroral Valley bushfire

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Families banded together to keep the fire at bay - helped by firefighters on the ground and in the air.

It is the tightest of communities.

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On Top Naas Road, a kilometre inside the ACT border, four neighbouring properties survived the weekend's ferocious bushfire by sticking together.

Mark Webb of Caloola farm has had sleepless nights and missed countless meals fighting spot fires. Picture: Karleen Minney

Mark Webb of Caloola farm has had sleepless nights and missed countless meals fighting spot fires. Picture: Karleen Minney

As the fires raged, they pooled resources. They shared water for dry mouths and they shared water for rapidly emptying tanks on utes which scooted to each spot where fire threatened.

They kept contact by radio. When one family needed help, the others rushed.

And they were helped by the great beast of a plane from Canberra airport. The DC-10 on hire to the territory came in low and laid a line of pink fire retardant as exact as if it were a road gang painting lines on the highway.

The Thick Red Line

Mark Webb at Caloola Farm finally had his breakfast just before midnight. He had previously eaten at the normal breakfast time the previous day.

On the Saturday and Sunday, his and his neighbours' worlds were turned upside down by the fire.

"It was angry. It definitely woke up, that's for sure," Mr Webb said.

"Right now you can see all the smoke around the place and you think you're right but there are thousands of spot fires just burning away there, and it's not until night time that you see the glow. You see everything come alive.

"It's like it's hiding, waiting."

Kelvin Curtis (left), daughter Tori and neighbour Isaac Hogan (back). Picture: Karleen Minney

Kelvin Curtis (left), daughter Tori and neighbour Isaac Hogan (back). Picture: Karleen Minney

On Monday, the multiple fires were still hiding there, waiting.

Their daily routine is to rage as the heat picks up through the day and ease back at night, according to Mick Hogan. "Last night, we could see three lines of fire," he said. "Once night time comes, the dew rises and puts it to sleep.'

Thirteen-year-old Isaac Hogan and 20-year-old Tori Curtis from adjacent properties were ferrying milk around to their neighbours Tori's father, Kelvin Curtis, rushed off to tackle a spot fire above the property.

It definitely woke up, that's for sure. It's not until night time that you see the glow. You see everything come alive. It's like it's hiding, waiting. - Mark Webb

Mr Curtis called them "bush kids" who are well versed in fires and the way to treat them - with respect.

The two youngsters were unfazed by the fires which continued to burn. At one stage, they had watched a spot fire burn out as it threatened to jump the road.

Isaac was due to restart school in Year 8 at Calwell High. He was worried that if he left home for school he wouldn't be able to get back home if the fires flared up and the roads got blocked.

How the fire was fought on Top Naas Road
Orroral valley fire, Naas valley neighbours. Fire retardant dropped directly onto the Namadgi visitors centre to protect from advancing flames.
Picture: Karleen Minney

Orroral valley fire, Naas valley neighbours. Fire retardant dropped directly onto the Namadgi visitors centre to protect from advancing flames. Picture: Karleen Minney

The family was very close to the target line when the DC-10 roared in and unloaded its retardant. The pink is all over the rocks and trees in a dead straight line alongside their home.

Tori Curtis said only that the plane was "cool". Her neighbour, Mick Hogan, said it was amazing: "It doesn't look right for a plane that big to be that low. It looks like it's going to drop out of the sky."

Members of all the families in the community were dousing spot fires on Monday as well as keeping everything flammable as wet as possible.

"If you notice anything, you just put water down," Mark Webb said. "We've got sprinkler systems running on the roof. We're wetting the ground. The gutters are full of water."

His boss Ralph Hurst-Meyers who runs Caloola Farm as a conference and adventure centre said the facilities were there for local people and firies to use.

He reckoned that the 75-metre deep bore there offered a total supply of a million litres of water. It was there for the community.

Heroes of the Home Front: It has been Australia's lost summer. Drought, hail, floods and, worst of all, bushfires have ravaged communities all over the nation. But the selfless actions of friends, family, neighbours, strangers, local groups and volunteer organisations have inspired us and strengthened the bonds of community. Please join us in saying thanks to the heroes of the home front by sharing your stories of gratitude. To salute a person or a group, please use the form below.

The story How a tiny community beat the fire - with help from not so high above first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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