Lower Hunter Rural Fire Service firefighters battle fires at Pelaw Main and Paterson

SMOKE: Residents watch on as a water-bombing helicopter flies over them to fight the fire at Pelaw Main.
SMOKE: Residents watch on as a water-bombing helicopter flies over them to fight the fire at Pelaw Main.

Imagine spending 12 hours fighting fires in stinking hot weather, unbelievably hot winds and smoke so thick you can barely see in front of you, and as you're about to leave, the flames intensify.

That's the situation Lower Hunter firefighters have been facing, and even though we're just one week into summer, many of them have been courageously battling fires for the past four months.

But if there's danger in front of them, these firefighters don't simply clock off when their shift is over.

"They can't walk away from their fellow firefighters, they can't walk away from their community," Rural Fire Service public liaison officer Leanne Bell said.

"So they just keep going.

"They're amazing.

"We try to manage their fatigue with 12 hour shifts but it can be really difficult to manage that."

The Lower Hunter was hit hard by fires this week with a car crash sparking a blaze at Pelaw Main on Tuesday, which has tore through about 340 hectares of bushland, followed by another intense fire at Paterson on Wednesday night that has engulfed another 100 hectares. Fires near Wollombi have also burned tens of thousands of hectares, the largest of which being Little L Complex, which was at Emergency level on Thursday night.

ATTACK: Firefighters heading to tackle the Pelaw Main fire from the ground and air on Tuesday. Pictures: Marina Neil

ATTACK: Firefighters heading to tackle the Pelaw Main fire from the ground and air on Tuesday. Pictures: Marina Neil

All three fires have reached the highest risk level and threatened homes and properties.

But these aren't the first incidents our local brigades have been called in to action for.

In fact, they've been going at it for four months already.

"Our firefighters have been going non-stop since August. Our areas were sending firefighters to fires up north," Ms Bell said.

"I'm sure they're tired, I'm tired.

"It's been very challenging."

And to make matters tougher, the tinderbox conditions have firefighters on the ground constantly on edge, even after they've managed to gain the upper hand on a blaze.

For example, Ms Bell said Friday's weather was set to bring low humidity and high winds, meaning anything could happen to the fires that are currently under control.

"Under those conditions, all it will take is an ember or a tree to fall into an unburnt area and we have to start all over again," she said.

"It's really important that the community stays up to date with what's happening."

And for those wishing to help the firefighters out in some way, Ms Bell said it's best to contact the local brigades to ask specifically what they want.

The RFS provides firefighters with things such as meals and water, but not any treats they may desire, such as ice blocks or lollies.

This story Firefighters who 'can't walk away' even after a 12 hour shift first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.