Caldwell volunteer fights NSW bushfires

By Jamieson Salter

Southern Riverina firefighter Kevin Barnes journeyed into the cauldron of the NSW bushfires, leaving his grain farm behind for the fifth time.

After only being back home at Caldwell for 24 hours, Mr Barnes received a text message from the Deniliquin Rural Fire Service requesting volunteers for the next shift in northern NSW.

In almost 60 years of being a volunteer firefighter, Mr Barnes said this was one of the worst bushfires he had witnessed.

“This is probably the biggest fire and every time we go back it gets bigger, it's been five to six weeks.”

Mr Barnes flew from Albury to Grafton and more volunteers were picked up along the way.

He said getting the volunteers together would have been a logistical nightmare for the head office in Sydney.

The volunteers arrived at the Grafton hockey field bunkhouse, a two-storey building that could accommodate 40 to 50 volunteers at a time.

The group settled into a large upstairs room, which hosted them for the duration of their stay.

The volunteers were always prepared to depart at varying times.

“Sometimes we weren't going out until two in the afternoon and getting back at two in the morning,” Mr Barnes said.

“Things can change even when you're out there, suddenly you're headed in a different direction.”

At the bunkhouse, breakfast and dinner was served to the volunteers and a lunch was packed for them to take with them.

After a day of battling the fires, the volunteers retired to the wet bar across the walkway and enjoyed a cold beer.

Mr Barnes found himself reunited with volunteers he had met before.

“Every time I go I meet up with a lot of the same people; we're not the one crew, we're mixed up a lot of the time.”

He said the majority of the volunteers were comprised of older generations, people in their 50s to 70s.

“There's not a lot of young people, it's harder for them to get away.”

During last week's trip, worsening conditions caused volunteers to offer to stay for longer.

“The northern wind was going to be a problem and it was 37 degrees,” Mr Barnes said.

“I usually stay for three days, this time 33 people volunteered to stay an extra day because of the catastrophic day on Tuesday (November 12).”

Mr Barnes said some volunteers travelled from as far as Tasmania to assist in NSW.