One year ago this week, lightning strikes ignited a blaze in the Corrabare State Forest that would continue to burn into the new year.
A community information session held at Congewai a fortnight prior would prove to be invaluable for the local residents, and has since earned statewide recognition.
The Millfield Rural Fire Brigade and the Congewai community won the Get Ready Community Award, which was presented in conjunction with the NSW Resilience Australia Awards last month.
The information session was held at the property of Congewai Valley Landcare president Rebecca Coventry, just two days before a catastrophic fire danger warning was issued in the Greater Hunter.
"After two years of drought, everything was becoming really dire," Ms Coventry said.
"We decided to run the workshop at my property, so people could see what to do with things that are lying around the property, and if trucks can access it."
About 40 people attended the meeting on November 10, 2019, and Ms Coventry said the information provided by the fire brigade, as well as the local knowledge shared by long-time Congewai residents, was simply fantastic.
Sixteen days later, the blaze that became known as the Crumps Complex fire began, and eventually burned through 7000 hectares.
"It was fairly relentless - it burned for weeks on the ridge," Ms Coventry said.
"The meeting made the links that proved so valuable later on."
Millfield Rural Fire Brigade secretary Alveen Kaminsky said the meeting highlighted the importance of bushfire preparedness and communication amongst local residents.
"There is only one road in and out of the valley and we recognised that due to the drought many dams had dried up and paddocks and timbered areas were tinder dry meaning that once a fire got going it would be difficult to stop," she said.
It made residents aware of fire truck access (as not all properties are accessible), how to prepare for ember attack, stock protection and when to evacuate.
"There are many basic things which can be done to protect homes and buildings from fire including basic equipment, clearing debris from around buildings and trees, personal protective clothing, moving stock to a manageable area of the property," Ms Kaminsky said.
"We encouraged neighbours to keep in touch, keep watch and help each other."
The Congewai Top End Group set up a UHF radio network, which assisted them all to keep watch on the fire.
"Without help from residents and the efforts from our members the fire impact in the Congewai valley could have been much worse," Ms Kaminsky said.
"The fire impacted some properties however we were able to protect homes and buildings from the fire so that the only losses were paddocks and timbered areas."
Since the fires the Congewai community has continued to assist the Millfield fire brigade.
A fundraiser was planned for April, and while COVID-19 forced the cancellation, a raffle was held instead and raised funds for the brigade.
The brigade nominated the Congewai community for the Get Ready Community Award, and with 28 nominees from around the state, was thrilled to be announced as the winner.
"The brigade is extremely grateful to the residents for their assistance with many helping out to protect their properties and providing food and water to our members and we wanted to recognise this great contribution," Ms Kaminsky said.
"There were so many people helping that it is really difficult to name everyone individually however the award is for each and every resident of the Congewai valley.
"Words cannot express the pride and joy we felt when the award was announced and the efforts of the Congewai residents were recognised.
"Whilst the brigade spent weeks within the Congewai valley but also provided fire protection in the Millfield area, we would also like to acknowledge and thank our many friends in the Paxton and Millfield areas for their assistance and provisions of food and water during the fires."
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The Get Ready Community Award and NSW Resilience Australia Awards winners were announced in a virtual ceremony that was broadcast from Parliament House on October 20.
The awards recognised community organisations across NSW for their exceptional work preparing for and protecting local communities from major bushfires, drought, storms, floods and the impact of COVID-19.
Resilience NSW Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons AFSM said the work of these communities has never been more important.
"We know how important locally-led projects are, both before and after disaster, and are committed to keeping local knowledge and leadership at the heart of building resilience in NSW," Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
"I would like to congratulate all entrants and winners for their dedication to their communities, thank you for all that you have done and all you continue to do."
See a video of the presentation below:
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