Firefighters relive dragging Peregian from the furnace
Coast fire chief Rob Frey has had a year to process the massive effort required to stop an inferno consuming hundreds of homes.
Mr Frey said it was a mustering of volunteer and professional firefighters as well as their emergency services counterparts who pulled off what many considered a miraculous great escape.
“First and foremost it was a huge team effort from a lot of committed firefighters, but also equally committed police officers,” Mr Frey said.
It comes as Peregian prepares to remember how these heroes held the Woodland Dr line against massive walls of fire.
He said the desperate but well-co-ordinated effort extended right through to the chain of command and the local government agencies working together to rally the defences and ensure a timely mass evacuation to emergency shelters.
“Through a lot of training and exercises held previously that went very, very well,” Mr Frey said.
“In a wild fire things move so rapidly, so things change almost by the minute.
“The co-ordination from the electrical services to the local disaster management group was a really good effort.”
He was pleased how quickly people were ushered to safety leaving more than 100 fire vehicles and about 300 frontline firefighters to fight right though the night.
“One of the greatest things that happened in my view in the Peregian fires was the community spirit that was shown,” he said.
“Lots and lots and lots of people who lived in say Noosaville rang friends who lived in Peregian or Peregian Springs and said ‘hey, your son or daughter goes to school with my son or daughter, we’ve got plenty of room come and stay’.”
Mr Frey was one of the first responders on to the scene on the afternoon when the fires first erupted.
“The fire was going extremely hard in quite a few directions, the first area of concern was the houses at the back of Peregian Springs and the shopping centre, and then towards where the fire was headed to the estate north of Peregian Springs,” he said.
Mr Frey said when the fire front came across the road and into Peregian their forces were already mustering hard for a “courageous” response.
“In particular the fire rescue and the rurals worked extremely well together and everybody was doing over and above … it was dark, there was a massive ember storm,” he said.
“When it came across they (the flames) were a good 10 to 15 feet above the tree height coming across.
“Embers were floating hundreds of metres and it was just raining down.
“When we pulled up to the units on David Low Way you didn’t know if the units were on fire.”
Mr Frey said only one unit in the danger zone overall was lost, but streets of houses and units were close to going up as the fire moved to outflank them by going north along the beach.
“One of the amazing things that I saw when we pulled up … three of the wheelie bins that were out in front of the houses were on fire.
“We just had to go up the street putting out many, many, many fires … fences were on fire, patios on fire, all of those sorts of things.”
During the night the firefighters had to also contend with the 11,000 volt powerlines in the fire ground burning down.
“It was avoiding those and taking care of the person next to you that really got us through,” he said.
“Under the chaotic conditions the command and control was working and it was working really well.”
Mr Frey said fire units were in place from as far away as Brisbane by the time they decided to make their stand at Woodland Dr and Murdering Creek Rd to hold the fire until morning.
“The objective now was to draw a line in sand to stop the fire going further and getting away.”
Mr Frey said crews with pressure hoses positioned on the balconies of the houses punched out into the fire front to allow the rural and urban firefighters working “arm in arm” together to extinguish it.
“That worked extremely well,” he said.
“We had enough trucks to relocate into the streets above Woodlands Drive so in case of any ember attack we could jump on it immediately.”
Mr Frey said at Murdering Creek Rd the fire vehicles lined up side-by-side to contain the fire, while ensuring they had a line of retreat if things went pear-shaped.
They fought a fast-moving wall of fire under quite extraordinary circumstances right through the night before “bugging out” around 7-8am to be replaced by fresh crews.
“Everybody stood up and did what they had to,” he said.
“They did what their training told them to do and they did what the community expected of them.”
Mr Frey will be part of the Peregian Strength of Human Spirit commemorative day on September 5 with community leaders, Noosa personalities and local business owners.
One of the highlights will be a gala dinner at the Peregian Surf Club to help raise funds for a renovated fire station to house a brand new fire truck for Verrierdale Rural Fire Brigade.
The dinner is organised by the Peregian Family and Friends in conjunction with the Verrierdale Rural Fire Brigade and marks twelve months since the fires.
“Our community has never taken our local professional and volunteer firefighters for granted but role that these men and women played to protect us all will long be remembered,” Peregian Family and Friends representative Leigh McCready said.
“The fire has certainly galvanised our local community.”
There will be an address by Matt Golinski, the celebrated advisory executive chef at Peppers Noosa Resort & Spa and fire tragedy survivor.
Other speakers include Noosa Mayor Clare Stewart and Mr Frey.
Local businesses have rallied to support the event with a number of raffle prizes and auction items up for grabs on the night.
Tickets are $179 per person and include a three course dinner, drinks and live music.