Maclean CBD fire brought out the best in his men says Col
AT 9.30am this Saturday former Maclean Fire Brigade captain Col Barnard won't have any problem remembering where he was 10 years ago - to the minute.
"It was 9.30am and I was walking out of the station with Alwyn Eagleton, just about to leave," Col said.
"The fire alarm sounded and one of the firies ran across to us and said to be prepared for a big one."
He wasn't wrong. Nine minutes later Col and the his brigade were fighting the fire that destroyed the Boulevarde Cafe shops and residential units, regarded as the biggest fire in the town's history.
"I remember when we turned into the street we were confronted with walls of flame coming from the unit above the Blue Wren Gift Shop," he said.
"We started to get set up, then the Yamba brigade arrived.
"About the same time, the fire jumped across to the unit above the Boulevarde Cafe and from there it went off on its own tangent."
Although the brigade could not save the cafe building they were able to stop the fire spreading to the nearby Maclean Bottle Shop to one side and the Riverland Travel building on the other.
"I'll never forget the heat coming off the fire," he said. "I've never experienced anything like it, and the noise. The roar of the fire was incredible."
The heat was so intense the concrete block wall of the Riverland Travel building exploded.
"Two of us were peppered with chunks of hot concrete," Col said.
"The intense heat had caused the air in the cavities to expand to the point where the bricks just blew up."
Throughout the day and into the next four NSW Fire Brigades from Maclean, Yamba and Grafton plus Rural Fire Service brigades fought the blaze. As well NSW SES, ambulance and police were on the scene through the day, into the night and the next day.
"It was odd the things you remember," he said. "I can remember old Sid Jones, who owned the butcher shop on the corner was worried about getting his sausage machine out.
"Of all the things that were happening that day, that's all he was concerned about."
Col also remembers one of Maclean's now controversial camphor laurel trees in McLachlan Park could have been removed a lot earlier.
"The backdraft (a plume of smake and flammable gases) shot across the road at one stage and set the tree (the third of the four) alight," he said.
"It's sort of funny when you think about what's happening with it now."
With all the emergency services personnel on site, fighting the fire could have been total chaos, but that's not how Col remembers it.
"It will be one of my best memories, how everyone got together to fight that fire," he said.
"It didn't matter if they were NSW Firies or RFS, everyone watched each other's backs.
"If someone was looking a bit iffy, someone would just quietly say to them it was time to get a drink and have a rest."
He said the fire kept re-igniting throughout the day and the brigade's last call out to it was 10am the next day.
He said it's hard to explain to people what Maclean lost in that fire.
"People can't believe it when they ask what used to be there at the site," he said.
"It's hard to believe it was once a boarding house with shops and a cafe that had been there about as long as the town."
But the experience of the fire has not been wasted with the photos taken by Daily Examiner photographer Debrah Novak, still used by the NSW Fire Brigade for training purposes.
Col said Debrah's photographs, which captured the fire from its start to finish were a rare resource.
"You don't often find you have a record of the fire from its ignition right through to extinguishment," he said.
"Those photographs were sent to the zone office in Goonellabah and are now at the training college in Sydney. They are absolutely brilliant photos."