By Lithgow Mercury Journalist Ciara Bastow
"It was something like I've never experienced..."
Glen Alice RFS deputy captain Tim Frew spent over three months of his life dedicated to helping fight the Gospers Mountain Fire, a fire that broke records as being the world's largest forest fire from a single ignition point.
For 79 days it tore through bushland, destroying homes, shattering lives and killing countless wildlife.
Tim Frew and his crew of men were called to the fire in late October, early November 2019 and worked for the next three months before the fire was officially declared 'out' on January 15.
"It got pretty intense," Tim said.
"It came over the top of our place, my place backs onto the Wollemi National Park, I've got probably two kilometres of cliff face in my backyard and it came over right along it one night.
"It got pretty close."
One particularly scary night that Tim will never forget was when he got home at 9pm after working with the RFS and everybody in his house, including his wife and two children had gone to bed.
There was a prediction for an easterly wind to blow in at about 11pm.
The wind did blow in, right on time.
"I waited up for that because I knew the fire wasn't too far from us, I didn't realise how close it was," he said.
"It came over the top so quick and that night we had embers dropping in everywhere, we had about 12 trucks in the area that responded, there were fires just running around everywhere.
"We were just stamping out these hot ashes like it was raining and you couldn't see anything because of the smoke, it was the thickest smoke I've ever seen.
"It was a pretty crazy night and it got within 40 metres."
Capertee RFS came and sat there all night to make sure the people of Glen Alice didn't lose their homes.
"I had to go and get my neighbours up and tell them that they have to get up because it [the fire] is here," he said.
Tim believed they got so lucky because the next day the wind turned.
"So many towns got so lucky with the wind, it was on us and then it turned due to the wind and that happened so many times," he said.
But that night was just one of many.
"The fire just went on and on and on," he said.
"Just about every day Glen Alice had crews out, we did 24 hour days, it wasn't any eight hours and then you come home, we were out 14 to 16 hours nearly every day."
Glen Alice has a crew of around 25 to 30 people they can call on when a fire hits, the majority of them being farmers.
"My captain is a farmer, my senior deputy is a farmer, I'm a farmer. All the other deputy captains in the Glen Alice brigade are pretty much farmers as well," he said.
"We were dealing with drought before any of these fires started and then last winter was the busiest winter we've had. We were called out nearly every weekend through winter as well. So we knew it was going to be bad."
Tim has lived down in Glen Alice for around 24 years and has been part of the RFS for just as long but had never seen a fire like Gospers Mountain before.
"We've had big fires out in the Wollemi National Park, it's not the first time the Wollemi's burnt since I've been here, but it was definitely the biggest and went on for the longest," he said.
"It encircled us and went right round the back of us down into Glen Davis and then back up towards Capertee, then it came round the other side and headed towards Rylstone as well."
Tim said the whole situation was "crazy come normal".
"I think that was what a lot of us thought about it all, I think it affected a lot of us," he said.
"Especially when it ended the way it did you know, it rained and put it out and it ended, it didn't take a long time to end, it just sort of went on for a long time, then it rained and it was over."
But just because the fire was over, didn't mean it was over for those who fought so hard to protect the community.
"It was really hard for a while...it is really hard to explain, and I know a lot of the other guys who worked just as hard did as well, I think many of us had trouble after the fire was over, just because it stopped," he said.
The longest Tim had spent on a fire was on Fathers Day in 2019, spending the whole day fighting but at the end of the day he could come home and it would be over, but this fire took not only physical but mental strength to fight.
"Once this started and we were called to go up and start having a look at it up on top of the cliff face and give them national parks guys a hand I don't think any of us had any idea what we were in for," he said.
"We were juggling farming, my senior deputy runs about 1000 head of cattle on the farm that he manages and spending around $30,000 a week feeding their cattle before this fire started.
"So it gives you some ideas of the sort of we were struggling with.
We have some incredible people down here.Tim Frew
Tim and his crew would come home around three or four in the morning and then head back out around 7 or 8am and do it all over again.
They did that for nearly three months.
"It was something like I've never experienced, no one told us what it was gonna be like," he said.
"We melted trucks, it got that hot in some places, we had helicopters dump water on us, we melted trucks with the rear vision mirrors, the lights, the front grills.
"Some pretty intense moments as well, but we're still here."
Glen Alice didn't lose one house and no one had any injuries bar a couple of minor scratches.
"So we did well those whole three months and I think that is pretty amazing," he said.
Once the fire was over, the town basically went into lockdown with COVID-19 restrictions. This meant the brigade couldn't have their annual general meeting or even just come together once the fire was over.
"It was something we were all looking forward to and it hasn't happened," Tim said.
"I think a lot of people have been left and we've been sort of left out and still have this sort of empty feeling.
"We just haven't been able to talk about it and some people have got some amazing stories."
Tim said they are looking forward to finally hosting their AGM because a lot of people donated money to them to be able to hold a party.
"It will be a crazy night but it's just something we need to do I think," he said.
"It definitely affected me and I'm not the only one. I don't know. I'm not the only one, even members of other crews have been affected because we haven't been able to sit down and talk with everybody about it.
It affected some people and will do for a long time, I hope I never see it again in my lifetime, it was hard.Tim Frew
Tim said it has been hard because of how close everyone in the community is.
"My captain is also my neighbour, the guys I'm fighting with are also my friends," he said.
Tim said that Glen Alice was a very hard but very beautiful place to live and to see it thriving now after such a traumatic event was "pretty cool".
"The place is probably the best I've seen in a long time," he said.
When driving through Lithgow and out to Capertee you can finally see some green, but the majority is still black and dead.
"You can see where the fire burnt, it burnt so hot up there everything is dead, there's nothing coming back," he said.
Tim said he wanted to thank every other crew that came to their aid.
"We had crews come from everywhere and they were just amazing, we had a lot of support which was pretty good, but it was needed," he said.
"We are just so grateful for all the help."