A New South Wales fire crew whose truck was encircled by enormous flames yesterday say they were left thinking they had lost at least eight of their colleagues.
The Fire and Rescue NSW crew from Wyoming, on the state’s Central Coast, were helping to fight the bushfires on the South Coast when their truck was overrun by orange flames.
In video of the incident, which begins with an ember attack, flames can be heard crackling as winds howl around the vehicle.
The Wyoming 509 crew had been part of a broader crew of four trucks and a car.
“For a good hour-and-a-half, us four (men) were the only crew we knew were alive,” firefighter Jasper Croft told Today in South Nowra this morning.
“The second truck that failed on us, we had no idea for a long time, we had no radio comms (communications). We thought we’d had at least eight fatalities until we got further on.
“We only escaped by a media car that we just jumped in and said, ‘Just get us out of here’.”
The horrifying footage, posted on Twitter overnight, had by midday on Wednesday been viewed 1.8 million times and swamped with comments labelling the firefighters “heroes”.
Inside the truck, firefighter Danny Field called out to Mr Croft to protect himself from the radiant heat.
“Jasper, Jasper, put the blanket up!” Mr Field says.
This morning he said the heat outside had been “like a radiator coming through the window”.
“It was pretty hairy at that stage, very hairy,” he said, adding his response came naturally because they have been trained to handle such dangerous conditions.
Mr Croft said the firefighters had been tasked to assist a Rural Fire Service crew under threat from the fire front that was pushing through the area.
“We just did what we train to do and go and save lives,” he told Today.
He said they reported the ember attack about 300 metres up the road but were told to proceed.
“We got to a certain point that it was just too unsafe,” Mr Croft said.
“So thanks to our driver (Grant Fitzgerald), he did an awesome job, just got us out of there … turned the whole crew around.
“We had two trucks that failed straight away on us because of the overrun, and we just made our way out to a safe position and then our truck failed as well.”
Mr Fitzgerald said they were lucky to be alive after making the decision to “pull the pin”.
“It happened very quickly, and we were just fortunate to get out,” he said.
“All of us here today are, you know, it’s amazing that we made it, so it was incredible.”
The fourth firefighter, Ervin Blancaflor, added: “It was pretty scary but I trusted my crew.”
The crew will attempt to salvage belongings from the truck before eventually heading home to their families.
Follow our live coverage of the bushfires across the country here.