Two years after the flames: 'There's been no real effort to address the lessons'

Two years on from the March 2018 bushfire, Vimy Ridge resident Allan Noble feels more should be done to prevent further catastrophic fires. Picture: Alasdair McDonald
Two years on from the March 2018 bushfire, Vimy Ridge resident Allan Noble feels more should be done to prevent further catastrophic fires. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Two years ago Allan Noble thought he and his wife Kim were going to die.

Trapped in the epicentre of a hurricane of fire, the couple were trapped for 24 hours on each side by flames while friends and family thought they had perished. With no visibility and burning branches falling on their heads they miraculously saved their home. Their only water supply running out just as the aggressive winds came to a gentle halt.

Two years on he has fought and won another battle against stomach and esophageal cancer, and says not enough has been done to prevent further catastrophic fires due to what he sees as a lack of leadership.

You can't expect unpaid guys who have to look after their families to spend months on end out there doing the fire work. It's just not right,

Vimy Ridge resident Allan Noble

"The people who should be leading are avoiding it at every turn, and what should be done is obvious - we need resources in the air and on the ground," the 61-year-old said as he sat in the shade out the front of his Vimy Ridge home on the NSW Far South Coast still surrounded by blackened trees.

"You've got people saving someone else's house while their own is burning. It's just not right, and that's purely a lack of resources."

With no coroner's report into the fire to speak of, and the nation's most catastrophic fire season putting the region into ongoing crisis mode, Mr Noble said the nation's leaders are yet to get their heads around the summer's tragedy let alone have proper procedures in place to try and prevent it from happening again.

"I don't have all the answers, and I don't think anyone does, but I don't see anyone trying to find them," he said.

"You would like to think the authorities are getting better. I mean if you didn't learn anything from this summer then it's a concern.

"You can't really say there was any real procedures or foresight. The government was told what was going to happen. They just had an ideological mindset that was wrong. They still do.

"They are at the behest of their coal mining donors, who don't take into account climate change and it's broad effects.

On March 18, 2018, the bushfire moved quickly from Reedy Swamp to the town of Tathra giving residents little time to react. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

On March 18, 2018, the bushfire moved quickly from Reedy Swamp to the town of Tathra giving residents little time to react. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

"I find it interesting the government is now crowing that they are doing what the scientists are saying about coronavirus, but not the science of climate change."

The second anniversary of the March 2018 bushfire that began in Reedy Swamp, near Bega, and destroyed 65 homes on it's way to the coastline, was coincidentally marked by a visit to the region by National Natural Disaster Royal Commission chair Mark Binskin and commissioners Annabelle Bennett and Professor Andrew Macintosh.

"There was a hurricane of fire coming, just a gale full of fire," he said.

"I think we had adrenaline sickness after it all. We were there for eight hours running around like dogs putting out fires."

At one point he even caught fire himself, and remains in disbelief how nobody lost their lives that day.

While information is being collected on this year's emergency, a recently released report by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre into the 2018 fire found there is room to educate people further about the role of embers in spreading fires into built-up areas, and providing greater clarity in official warning messages, especially in the event of power or technology failures.

Allan Noble's property was at "ground zero" of the 2018 bushfire. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Allan Noble's property was at "ground zero" of the 2018 bushfire. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

The study found many residents had considered bushfire preparation as something only done while directly threatened by fire, not well in advance of any threats.

"Many people within Tathra had not thought that a bushfire could impact the town, or had not considered the potential for fire to penetrate beyond the bush at the western edge of town," the report states.

In 2018, a preliminary report by NSW Rural Fire Service fire investigators found "electrical infrastructure on Reedy Swamp Road as the likely cause" of the bushfire, which Mr Noble said should be safe guarded during extreme weather conditions.

Mr Noble said he feels the government should have brought in water bombing aircraft as soon as possible, and that there should be a dedicated, paid Rural Fire Service.

"You can't expect unpaid guys who have to look after their families to spend months on end out there doing the fire work. It's just not right," he said.

"There's been no real effort to address the lessons of the recent fire season that I've seen."

Wildlife has begun to return to his property, and along with his family, he has spent countless hours making his home livable again, and preparing his property for the worst.

"If it does come again we are pretty well prepared, and who knows because the fire season hasn't finished yet," he said.

Allan Noble's property was at "ground zero" of the 2018 bushfire. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Allan Noble's property was at "ground zero" of the 2018 bushfire. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

"There's a few times I've thought of leaving, but I go down to the river for a while and realise I'm not going anywhere."

He and his family have cleared a large area around his house, spending months removing trees and fuel to help prevent devastation from another fire. With a dangerous and extended fire season predicted he was ready to take on the flames again if necessary.

"I thought after last time, I wasn't going to evacuate anywhere this time," he said.

"Anything could've gone wrong a thousand times the last time, but we were better prepared this time.

"I felt reasonably confident, but the kids hadn't seen fire up front before so they were reasonably terrified.

"I prepared the hell out of this place, and fortunately the fire didn't arrive."

Following the 2018 fire, he immersed himself in music, something he fell in love with at a young age and has helped him deal with the trauma of his experience.

"It's a great outlet. I've been fortunate to inherit a bunch of mates later in life, which is unusual," he said.

"It's a great distraction, and it gets your mind working."

He became a member of the Pambula Beach Garage Band, known as PBGB, and late last year released an album titled Arden Street under the moniker Owl Noble - a name given to him by his children after his eyes were damaged in the 2018 fire.

Local band The Figmentz have also adopted one of his songs, 'Love Will Set You Free', into their live shows.

"I write when it comes to me, or I sit down and force myself to write," he said.

"You get to this age and it's hard to take most things seriously."

This story Two years after the flames: 'There's been no real effort to address the lessons' first appeared on Bega District News.