It's like being in hell

Gisborne man at the frontline of Queensland fires.

Gisborne man at the frontline of Queensland fires.

QUEENSLAND BURNS: Former Gisborne and now Queensland firefighter Shane Brown (see the following photo in this gallery) has been leading crews battling bushfires since August, fires like this hellish blaze at Stanthorpe, south of Toowoomba, where he and his family live. Pictures supplied
Shane Brown.
WELCOME BREAK: Former Gisborne firefighter Shane Brown is happy to be home for a holiday after a huge few months of fighting fires in Queensland including Stanthorpe (see the following picture in this gallery) near where he lives in Toowoomba.
Stanthorpe fire.

A former Gisborne firefighter who has been battling catastrophic fires in Australia describes his experience as “like being in hell”.

Shane Brown is back home to visit family in what has been a welcome break from fighting the bush fires that have ravaged so much of the eastern side of Australia.

The 50-year-old served as a professional firefighter with the New Zealand Fire Service in Gisborne for 10 years. He is now with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services based in Toowoomba, inland from Brisbane.

“At the end of August the big fires kicked off in our region — the south-west region — and the first big one was south of Toowoomba at Stanthorpe,” he said.

He was involved in that fire for 10 days, starting on the frontline then helping with co-ordination in his role as divisional commander.

Apart from a few days break here and there, Shane and his teams have been fighting fires almost non-stop since then.

“The fires are just catastrophic,” he told The Gisborne Herald yesterday. “That’s the word they’re using over in Australia now, and that’s exactly what it is — catastrophic.

“Because of drought, the fire conditions are ideal and when you get the wind, well, it’s like being in hell.”

Shane and other firefighters were caught several times in “ember storms” and “running crown” fires.

“Ember storms are absolutely surreal. It’s like you’re in a whole new world and your mind’s running at a million miles an hour.

“There’s hot embers flying everywhere and the sound is like a freight train coming from everywhere.”

As to “running crown” fires.

“That’s when the flames ‘run’ across the treetops, flashing from tree to tree because of the high eucalyptus oil content in the gum trees.

“It’s scary . . . so scary when a fire front like that comes at you at a great rate of knots.

“The heat created under the trees is just incredible. But at the same time all the training we go through kicks in, and everyone just kicks into action.

“We come up with a plan to combat it and work to put it into effect. If it doesn’t work we come up with another plan, and keep going until we get on top of it.

“At the end of the day it’s the people we’re trying to protect.”

The fires were hard to stop once they got started, he said.

“It’s a matter of not putting it out where it is because they move so fast. It’s about putting in fire breaks further down the line to limit how far it can go.

“Our fire prediction analysts can predict where the fire is going to go. They are very accurate, right on the money.

“Once the fire breaks are in, we hit the fire with aircraft and fire retardant to slow it down, and then crews on the ground get in to put it out.

“If we can, we try to burn back into it to put it out that way.”

Shane said the past few months had been mentally and physically draining, and he was happy to finally get a holiday so he could be here with family.

“My wife Jacqui, daughter Shania and son Niko have been spending time with my mum and dad (Diane and Hauraki Brown), and we re-celebrated our daughter’s 21st birthday.

“It’s been good to be home and away from the fires for a while — to take a moment to breathe, recharge the batteries and catch up with family and friends.”

He heads back to Queensland mid-December.

“I expect I’ll be back fighting fires.”

A former Gisborne firefighter who has been battling catastrophic fires in Australia describes his experience as “like being in hell”.

Shane Brown is back home to visit family in what has been a welcome break from fighting the bush fires that have ravaged so much of the eastern side of Australia.

The 50-year-old served as a professional firefighter with the New Zealand Fire Service in Gisborne for 10 years. He is now with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services based in Toowoomba, inland from Brisbane.

“At the end of August the big fires kicked off in our region — the south-west region — and the first big one was south of Toowoomba at Stanthorpe,” he said.

He was involved in that fire for 10 days, starting on the frontline then helping with co-ordination in his role as divisional commander.

Apart from a few days break here and there, Shane and his teams have been fighting fires almost non-stop since then.

“The fires are just catastrophic,” he told The Gisborne Herald yesterday. “That’s the word they’re using over in Australia now, and that’s exactly what it is — catastrophic.

“Because of drought, the fire conditions are ideal and when you get the wind, well, it’s like being in hell.”

Shane and other firefighters were caught several times in “ember storms” and “running crown” fires.

“Ember storms are absolutely surreal. It’s like you’re in a whole new world and your mind’s running at a million miles an hour.

“There’s hot embers flying everywhere and the sound is like a freight train coming from everywhere.”

As to “running crown” fires.

“That’s when the flames ‘run’ across the treetops, flashing from tree to tree because of the high eucalyptus oil content in the gum trees.

“It’s scary . . . so scary when a fire front like that comes at you at a great rate of knots.

“The heat created under the trees is just incredible. But at the same time all the training we go through kicks in, and everyone just kicks into action.

“We come up with a plan to combat it and work to put it into effect. If it doesn’t work we come up with another plan, and keep going until we get on top of it.

“At the end of the day it’s the people we’re trying to protect.”

The fires were hard to stop once they got started, he said.

“It’s a matter of not putting it out where it is because they move so fast. It’s about putting in fire breaks further down the line to limit how far it can go.

“Our fire prediction analysts can predict where the fire is going to go. They are very accurate, right on the money.

“Once the fire breaks are in, we hit the fire with aircraft and fire retardant to slow it down, and then crews on the ground get in to put it out.

“If we can, we try to burn back into it to put it out that way.”

Shane said the past few months had been mentally and physically draining, and he was happy to finally get a holiday so he could be here with family.

“My wife Jacqui, daughter Shania and son Niko have been spending time with my mum and dad (Diane and Hauraki Brown), and we re-celebrated our daughter’s 21st birthday.

“It’s been good to be home and away from the fires for a while — to take a moment to breathe, recharge the batteries and catch up with family and friends.”

He heads back to Queensland mid-December.

“I expect I’ll be back fighting fires.”

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S. Clayton, Gold Coast - 7 days ago
You are one of the heroes, helping to save lives and homes. Australians are proud of you and your fellow firemen and women and NZ Kiwis living here are also. We have the smoke around our homes every day and we just pray that those on the front line of the fires are safe. We are so thankful for the dedication of all fire service people, including the volunteers. The people of NZ on Facebook complaining about the small amount of smoke you are getting over there should be ashamed.
Lives have been lost and many saved thanks to people like Shane Brown.
Proud to know the parents of such a courageous man.