NRL star details harrowing bushfire encounter
PENRITH Panthers star James Tamou has done his part to help defend properties as Australians band together to hold off the flames from tearing their homes apart.
Tamou has detailed his eye-opening experience after heading out to help his in-laws in Braidwood, which is about a 40-minute drive inland from Batemans Bay.
The Panthers prop said he'd never encountered stronger people in his life than the firefighters he saw battling for days on end, and the terrifying situations had left him feeling "powerless" against the raging winds and flames.
"It was actually my father in-law, he'd been working his butt off for the last month, month and a half, went down to their property and spent some time with them," Tamou said in a video released by his club.
"He was like 'jump in, we're going to go help some people or go around to make sure everything is fine'.
"They were very thin there. You could tell that once they saw us they were all like 'come on in, we need all the help we can get'.
"We would sort of hold our ground against the fire. It took us all day to hold our ground - to then come back the next day and find that the flames had gone up a bit more. You know, 20m past the point we were trying to defend.
"You just felt like you had nothing left and I can only imagine what the people that were there for weeks, what they were going through.
"It was a different type of fatigue that got ya and some of those firemen were some of the strongest people I think I've ever seen, they just kept going. Right now they're still going and still trying to fight the fire.
"There was one time we were trying to fight this fire and the wind sort of changed and the fire came around the back of us and we're standing there holding the hose.
"We feel this heat in front of us and we feel it beside us. This circle is getting smaller and smaller and we're sort of looking at each other, none of us want to brush it or run off and dog it, but we're looking at each other like 'what are we doing?'
"The flames are climbing the trees as quick as anything above my head, we're standing right there and then we hear this, 'everyone get the heck out of here'.
"You knew that was it, drop everything and get out. And then this tree falls into the road that we had come in on so the truck was stuck and from then on because of the smoke being so thick and the fire overbearing us I actually felt so powerless and I was actually stunned like, 'What do I do now? I haven't been in this position before.'
"My father in-law was just on to it. He'd obviously been in that fight for a few weeks, but he just got the rope, wrapped it around the tree, tied it to the truck and just tried to hammer it back to get the tree out of the road and did a decent enough job for us to basically drive over it and we got out.
"It was just that feeling of powerless. Like most situations I've been in, I've sort of been in control but that was overwhelming and, like I said, nothing I've been a part of."
James Tamou reflects on the eye-opening experience of facing the flames around Braidwood. Please join Jimmy at Saturday's Firefighter Fundraiser as we dig deep for the @NSWRFS ❤️🙏🏽#AustraliaFires #pantherpride 🐾 pic.twitter.com/hGfJi76iD7— Penrith Panthers (@PenrithPanthers) January 8, 2020
"When I was out there I knew my brother in-law had taken some photos and my wife was saying I needed to share what I was doing, but it didn't bother me. I was here to help," Tamou said.
"My wife said it would raise awareness and hopefully get some help that these people need. I thought if that's the case then I'm happy to do that.
"These people that have gone through months and months of this type of horror, this type of devastation … I honestly have no words for them.
"We've seen people just hunched down like they had nothing left. It was pretty devastating and it really makes you think of how lucky you are."
The Penrith Panthers will host a bushfire fundraiser on Saturday, January 11 at Panthers Stadium as they run an open training session, with attendees then able to meet the players. All donations collected on the day will go to the NSW RFS.