EXCLUSIVE

One year on from the Kian Rd fire storm at South Arm

Gumma Captain Rob Mills and South Arm Captain Gail Perry with the special plaque
Gumma Captain Rob Mills and South Arm Captain Gail Perry with the special plaque

BACK when Adam West played Batman in a black and white tv series, the audience was forever teased on how to catch the next episode: "same bat time, same bat channel".

So too at South Arm Rural Fire Station today was there a poignant revisitation.

It was 12 months to the day that the Kian Rd bushfire razed South Arm, where the station served as a control point for the Rural Fire Service.

While this morning there were no cloaked superheroes on hand, the station was wallpapered with everyday heroes - some of the firefighters who fought stupendously to slow the Beast of Kian and protect homes.

It was a Friday, November 8, 2019, when the fire raced into South Arm, and it was still belting through the valley and ridges the following day.

An intimate ceremony at the station today was held to mark the anniversary of an unprecedented chapter in the history of the Nambucca Valley.

Mayor Rhonda Hoban somewhat unintentionally picked up on the superhero theme, remarking to the gathered firefighters "how ordinary you all look".

It was no sleight, rather an observation that firefighters stripped of the tools of their trade in helmets and the like, are everyday folk.

"You are either incredibly brave, or incredibly silly - I can't imagine what it would have been like," Rhonda said.

Today's observance was largely driven by Trevor Stride from Gumma Brigade.

Trevor was South Arm Control during the initial maelstrom, and felt a pang for this solemn milestone not to go unpassed.

So it was arranged for members of Gumma and South Arm brigades to come together.

A special gift was given - a plaque made from scorched timber and bolts saved from a bridge that wasn't. That bridge was on the property of South Arm Brigade Captain Gail Perry.

Revered local entertainer Lach McKay MCed the gathering and reflected on this time a year ago - "it was an horrendous couple of days or a couple of weeks".

He noted other brigades were among the first to respond in addition to South Arm and Gumma - North Macksville, Valla, Scotts Head and Valla Beach, plus RFS Group Officers.

In passing across the commemorative plaque which was crafted, forged and date stamped by Gumma, their Captain Rob Mills said it was symbolic "that things can be rebuilt".

South Arm Captain Gail noted the tallowood and iron construct was an "elemental reminder of the challenge of that day".

Dad and daughter - Trevor and Courtney Stride

Dad and daughter - Trevor and Courtney Stride

The occasion was also used to present NSW Premier's Citations to a number from the Gumma and South Arm brigades.

Lower North Zone Superintendent Lachlann Ison did the honours, explaining the citations were being given to a number of people across the State who played key roles in the fires, not just front-line firefighters.

While the first of the citations were presented some time back, Supt Ison observed today's awards were underscored by time and place.

"It's a little bit different today. This is South Arm, this is the eighth of November," he said.

Supt Ison said firefighters had applied themselves over a sustained period in the past year - from escaped hazard reductions in July 2019, to out-of-area missions to Glen Innes and Casino, and then back to the Nambucca Valley where they were needed as Kian Rd and Carrai East fires developed.

When the threat from these two mega-fires passed, a number of local volunteers raised their hand to help out on the South Coast which was getting torn to shreds by flame in the New Year.

Some of the final, lasting words were left to Group Officer David Sinclair.

When he arrived at South Arm on Saturday, November 9, to relieve and assume control from Trevor Stride, he was "heartbroken and disappointed and a little bit angry" to realise the latter's enormous service.

"The amount of people who stepped up, it was just amazing," David said.

"And I was happy for Trevor to go home and get some rest until I found out he had left me with two tv interviews to do."

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