Bushfires, Black Summer, Mallacoota, Firefighting, Rod Lewis

Bushfires, Black Summer

Mallacoota's school was saved from fire, now it's become the focus of the town's renewal

Mallacoota's school was saved from fire, now it's become the focus of the town's renewal

23/05/2020 9:54:00 PM

Mallacoota 's school was saved from fire, now it's become the focus of the town's renewal

Fire brigade captain Rod Lewis 's priority during the Mallacoota fires was saving the local school and now, after a tumultuous few months, students are preparing to get back in the classroom.

The pole is just metres from the Mallacoota Fire Brigade shed.Five months after the sky turned black and red here, the local brigade captain, Rod Lewis, recalls looking out of his incident control room to see the "massive wall of flame" at their door.

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"It was pitch black, smoke, embers coming down by the tonne, thousands of embers," he remembers."It was coming down like a torrential rainstorm with red embers catching everything on fire."He estimates the fire was towering 30 metres into the sky.

"Radiant heat somewhere up around 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius. It was extremely hot," Mr Lewis said."The ground was just erupting in flames."He said "fireballs" were flying across the area and one hit the power pole.Then the fire station itself was alight, forcing firefighters to turn their hoses on their own building.

"That fire station had to survive for the recovery process and the management of the fire," Mr Lewis said.The priority was making sure the fire did not go past the fire station.(ABC News: Anna Henderson)Mallacoota lost more than 100 homes in the blazes that raged in and around the town.

But the fire station was saved.At the time, Rod Lewis's own family were among those inside.As well as preserving human life, his priority was saving people's homes and protecting the local school, which is a few streets deeper into the community.

He said the fire station was the last line of defence."The centre of the town is behind us, [the] school, petrol stations, central business area. That had to be protected at all costs."He said the school was particularly important to save because getting students back there would be vital in the recovery.

Many residents were forced onto the water to seek refuge from the flames.()Fire in the schoolyardThe fire ended up jumping the road and getting into the back of the school, but the damage was limited.The school has become an important focal point for the renewal of Mallacoota.

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Principal Tim Cashmore, known in the classroom as Mr C, is responsible for students ranging from five to 18 years old.He said many families with children at the school were affected by the fires and five lost everything. Three members of staff also lost their houses.

"It's a long, grieving recovery process," he said."The volunteer firefighters literally saved our town."One of our students was one of the firefighters, he's a very brave boy, doing his year 12."He said many other students put themselves forward to help others in a multitude of ways.

Just when the children returned to school after the fires, hungry for companionship, the coronavirus pandemic sent most back into self-isolation.Mr Cashmore and his staff are now preparing for students to return on Tuesday, with a new world of coronavirus restrictions to navigate.

Children at Mallacoota public school made a figurine of fire brigade Captain Rod Lewis (far left). Read more: ABC News »

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