DEVASTATION can make or break a community.
The 30th anniversary of the Avoca fires, which devastated the central goldfields region, has brought memories swelling back for the CFA volunteers who protected their communities that day.
The fire started in Avoca on the morning of Monday, January 14, 1985.
The bushfire was burning in a straight ribbon before the wind swung 90 degrees and turned north into a 25-kilometre front burning towards Daisy Hill, Talbot and Majorca.
Ian Burt, then in his early 20s, was dropping garbage at the Talbot tip when he heard the fire siren shortly after midday.
As a volunteer firefighter, he raced to the Talbot fire station and hopped on a tanker on its way to Avoca.
“We saw the smoke rising above the trees and from the east side of Avoca while we were trying to put out the bush and grassfire,” Mr Burt said.
“Once it reached the bush on the outskirts of Avoca, it started crowning. Because it’s all bush between Avoca and Talbot, it crowned the whole way. And that’s when the fireballs started.”
The Maryborough Advertiser reported at the time that 200 trucks and up to 1000 firefighters were fighting the blaze.
One person died after the bushfire tore through 50,800 hectares, destroying 101 homes and 500 farms, killing 40,000 sheep and 500 cattle.
Reports the fire was threatening homes in Talbot prompted Mr Burt’s crew to return home just after 4.30pm.
Upon returning to Talbot, Mr Burt’s crew and others were unable to save buildings in neighbouring town Amherst as the fire prevented them from passing the town’s cemetery.
Mr Burt recalls working through the night, fuelled by adrenalin and the determination to save his community.
Talbot CFA volunteer Roy Randall said his wife and children made a daring escape on the day from their home in Red Lion.
“My wife Maree escaped as the fire reached Red Lion and dragged the kids through the flames,” he said.
He walked through the remains of the homes and properties the morning after.
“You just start helping people clean up and helping those who lost their homes,” Mr Burt said.
“It was just a major clean-up.”
The pain from the 1985 fire has seared a deep wound in many of the Talbot townspeople and the anniversary didn’t come easy for some.
Some homes took 10 years to rebuild while other families simply packed up and moved on.
“A lot of people don’t want to reflect on it. There is just memories. The people that lost their houses don’t want a reminder of the valuables they lost and the hardship,” said Mr Burt, who is now the Talbot Fire Brigade captain.
“People took their anger and frustration out in different ways.”
Thirty years on, the brigade had changed for the better in attitude and equipment, Mr Burt said.
“We’ve come a long way from the Leyland truck,” he said.