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Bushfire inquiry hears loving tributes to three men

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The NSW Bushfires Coronial Inquiry has today heard loving tributes paid to three Shoalhaven men killed by the Currowan bushfire on December 31st, 2019.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Donna Ward, told the court the families and friends of Sussex Inlet man Michael Campbell, 69, and Yatte Yattah men John Butler Senior, 75, and Laurie Andrews, 70, had provided written statements talking about the lives cut short on that terrible day.

And as she summarised the submissions Ms Ward gave State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan a fuller picture of the lives of all three men.

"It's unusual even in this jurisdiction on for three family statements to be given in consecutive order, particularly in circumstances where the deceased were not related to each other," Ms Ward said.

"Whilst there is much sadness in the statements that follow there is also much love."

The hearing was told Mr Campbell was the father of three children who lived on a bush block at Sussex Inlet for many years.

Ms Ward said his family members were "still struggling with the aftermath of Michael's death".

His body was found in his car by friend Steven Daley, who flagged down highway patrol officer, Senior Constable Brendan Keenan.

"Your Honour will be impressed by the kindness and respect Senior Constable Keenan displayed both towards Steven and to Michael himself," Ms Ward told the inquiry.

She went on to tell the court about John "But" Butler, who was born in Milton and raised at Conjola, and after losing his father at the age of three, grew to become an accomplished bush horseman and a crack shot.

"He had a jovial and friendly disposition with a cheeky sense of humour which endeared him to many," Ms Ward said.

The family statement said Mr Butler was familiar with the nature of bushfires in the region, having helped fight many - particularly in January 2002 when a bushfire caused havoc at Conjola.

Mr Butler helped fight that blaze, and the family feared his familiarity with the way fire behaved might have lulled him into a false sense of security about the Currowan blaze.

"He probably didn't understand the ferocity of the fire," Ms Ward said.

She told the court Mr Butler had spoken to a nephew and a friend in separate telephone conversations around midday on December 31 - a day the family described as "our black day".

Mr Butler was later found inside his car, possibly trying to flee the flames when he crashed.

He was still wearing the iconic black Akubra that was so recognisable during his daily trips into Milton.

Laurie Andrews was described as a loving family man who moved to Myrtle Gully in Yatte Yattah in 1980.

The hearing was told of Mr Andrews' courage, which resulted in him being given a bravery medal in 2005 for rescuing two children who were in a small inflatable boat when they were washed out to sea from the Lake Conjola entrance.

Ms Ward said Mr Andrews paddled his surfboard out to the children, but by the time he reached them their boat was gone and his surfboard was gone, and he balanced one on each shoulder while making his way back to shore.

He delivered them to the rescue party, grabbed his board, and then disappeared, the hearing was told.

"Laurie would help anyone who needed it," Ms Ward read from the statement.

"He is forever missed and forever loved by his family."

State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan thanked the families for providing "such beautiful words about the loved ones".

Earlier in the day the inquiry was told investigations into the Charley's Forest and Clyde Mountain fires ruled out arson as a cause.

However the officer in charge of the coronial investigation into both fires, Detective Senior Constable Jeff Horne from the Arson Squad, said a landowner in the Deua River Valley conducted a back-burn that got out of control and merged with the Clyde Mountain fire.

The landowner had since been charged, convicted and sentenced, Detective Horne said.

The inquiry's focus now turns to the North Black Range Fire in the Queanbeyan-Palerang municipality tomorrow.

Image: Rural Fire Service

Fire crews called to grass fire at New Berrima

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The Rural Fire service has been called out to a small grass fire at New Berrima, along Berrima Road.

The fire was caused by fallen powerlines and has now been brought under control.

Around 3000 customers are currently without power.

Power is expected to be restored around 7pm.

Traffic controllers are in the area so motorists are being asked to exercise caution.

Image: RFS Southern Highlands

Hazard reduction burns to continue

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A couple of small hazard reduction burns are taking place in the Southern Highlands on Saturday.

The first will be a 15 hectare burn in Gibbergunyah Reserve at Mittagong and the second a 10 hectare burn in River Bend Reserve in Berrima.

Superintendent Martin Surrey said they have a small window of opportunity before the weather starts warming up.

"We want to do it when it's safe for our firefighters and safe for the community.

"We'll get the low intensity burns done, clear up some of the fuels we have around the place, so we're in a good position for Summer,''Superintendent Surrey said.

Image: RFS Southern Highlands

Highlands RFS volunteers helping flood victims

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Rural Fire Service volunteers across the Highlands continue to lend a helping hand up north.

A large number of them will be up in the Hills and Hawkesbury districts this week.

Another contingent transported motor homes up to Casino today.

District Manager Martin Surrey said the devastation is quite confronting.

"Locally we got a taste of it last week, but it's only scratching the surface compared to what's occurred up north,

"It's unimaginable what those people are going through,"Mr. Surrey said.

RFS Southern Highlands is also thanking local employers who've allowed volunteers to take time off work to assist in flood ravaged parts of the state.

They're performing a number of duties aimed at helping people get back on their feet.

Image: Hill Top RFS via Facebook

National Parks improved fire protection

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The 2022-23 NSW Budget is delivering a major boost to fire management in national parks through a $598 million investment, delivering 250 permanent jobs and critical infrastructure upgrades.

Member for South Coast Shelley Hancock MP said the funding will ensure the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) can increase hazard reduction activity.

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“This funding will maintain record levels of national park firefighters in NSW,” Mrs Hancock said.

“This will help to strengthen remote area firefighting capability and support NPWS to continue its critical work protecting communities and the environment from the threat of bushfires.”

Minister for Environment James Griffin said NPWS, in collaboration with the Rural Fire Service (RFS), conducts about 75 per cent of all hazard reduction burning in NSW.

“This significant investment of $598 million over 10 years for NPWS will secure 250 permanent jobs for firefighting and conservation roles, and deliver important infrastructure and fleet upgrades,” Mr Griffin said.

“This is a major part of our response to the Bushfire Inquiry, which resulted in a 20 per cent increase in NPWS hazard reduction targets in high-risk areas.

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The funding boost will deliver:

  • 250 permanent jobs from July 2023, including 200 firefighters and 50 roles to meet new statutory requirements for protecting Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS) across the national parks estate
  • $27.7 million over four years to upgrade the radio network
  • $4.5 million over four years for safety upgrades to the NPWS fleet

The need for special measures to protect AIS habitats, such as the Wollemi Pine, was another outcome of the Bushfire Inquiry.

With more than 200 Assets of Intergenerational Significance already declared, the funding will deliver fire management, feral animal control and other measures needed to protect the most important natural and cultural assets in the national parks estate.

Images: Newsroom 

National volunteer week

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As part of National Volunteer Week, the Southern Highlands Rural Fire Service is acknowledging the tremendous contribution that their volunteers make in the community.

There are 42 brigades in the Wingecarribee and Wollondilly local government areas with between 1700 and 1800 volunteers.

Inspector David Stimson says there are a couple of ways that people can get involved.

"I think the best idea is to go onto the NSW Rural Fire Service website or contact your local brigade,

"Go and see them and discuss whether there's a role that's suitable for them,"Mr. Stimson said.

For further details click here

Image: NSW Rural Fire Service

RFS members assisting in flood affected areas

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The Southern Highlands Rural Service is providing a helping hand to flood affected areas across the state.

Yesterday afternoon a strike team with five tankers and a team leader was sent up to Liverpool.

And a couple of other volunteers are assisting further north in the Hunter Valley and around Lismore.

Inspector David Stimson said it's nice to be able to return the favour.

"The SES is the main response agency for floods and they rely on us to come and support them,

"We also rely on them during major fire events,"Inspector Stimson said.

Image: NSW Rural Fire Service

 

 

Training exercise in Burradoo

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Firefighters will be honing their skills at a property along Moss Vale Road in Burradoo on Saturday and Sunday.

A house near the bus stop which is about to be demolished will be filled with simulated smoke.

Fire & Rescue Duty Commander for the Southern Highlands Bruce Dowling said they'll be carrying out a number of training drills and is asking people not to be concerned.

"I have drawn up some letters to nearby residents to let them know what's going on,

"We won't be lighting any fires and there's no need to panic,"Mr. Dowling said.

The Rural Fire Service is also taking part in the exercise.

Truck fire at Bewong

RURAL FIRE SERVICE SHOALHAVEN

Motorists travelling past the Bewong rest area are being asked to exercise caution.

Around 2:30pm a truck carrying two tonnnes of recycling waste caught alight.

The driver had to dump the load in the rest area.

There's plenty of smoke in the area.

Image: Shoalhaven RFS

Vaccine mandate an issue for some RFS volunteers

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A number of volunteers from the Wingello Rural Fire Service Brigade have raised concerns about having to provide information to the NSW Rural Fire Service about their covid vaccination status.

If they fail to do so they'll be dismissed or placed on “reserve” status.

Local resident David Bruggeman has a number of family members who are affected and believes it's unfair.

"It's terrible what's happening,

"And I know it's happening in Wingello, because my son and daughters who are volunteers, they've basically been sidelined,"Mr. Bruggeman said.

However RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd said there are exemptions for certain brigades, where confirmed service delivery impacts are confirmed as significant.

"To date across the state, there have only been 42 brigades that have applied for that exemption,

"The Wingello Brigade at this stage has not applied for the exemption and that consultation is ongoing,"Mr. Shepherd said.

Image: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr