In the aftermath of the devastating 2009 bushfires, Kilmore East farmers Kevin and Rhonda Butler needed to quickly rebuild their fences.
They were among the many who suffered damage to their property. At risk of losing their livestock, they sought help from family, friends and locals to help rebuild their fences.
The job, which would otherwise have taken months to complete, was finished within a week.
This marked the beginning of the group known as BlazeAid. Since 2009, BlazeAid volunteers have come from near and far to help rebuild fences in the aftermath of a bushfire. But as vice-president Brian Carr explained, it’s not just fires and fences that BlazeAid’s army of volunteers have assisted with.
“People are often surprised when we say that building fences is usually our second priority,” Brian said. “Our first priority is to lift the spirit of the farmers we are helping.
“A lot of the time when we first see them, they’re in tears, they’ve lost everything. Having people there helping shows them that somebody cares.”
The group currently assists those in need following a fire, flood, cyclone or drought, Australia-wide, in the recovery phase after first responders have departed.
“We get people on the verge of ending it all, and they literally can’t get out of bed in the morning to face the day.
“We had one gentleman whose greyhounds were his pride and joy, and he had quite a lot of them. He lost them all in a fire as well as his house, his machinery and fencing. He was
devastated and I think we were able to save his life just by being around and giving him something to do, some people to talk to. He’s going strong now.
“I would imagine we’ve saved quite a few lives doing what we do.”
More than 16,000 volunteers donated their time to BlazeAid between 2009 and 2017, and an estimated 7,050 kilometres of fencing was rebuilt by the group in this time. BlazeAid volunteers have come from all parts of Australia as well as New Zealand, Switzerland, England, Afghanistan, Canada, Germany, Austria, the US and France. The group is a triumph of human spirit, an example of people’s willingness to provide assistance to those most in need.
None of the 16,000 who has volunteered for BlazeAid has received a cent, and indeed the group has many parallels with CFA and its large group of dedicated volunteers. In fact, some of those who have volunteered for BlazeAid are also CFA volunteers or volunteers for other states’ fire service organisations.
“We get a lot of older people offering to help, but we also get some younger people too, even school age,” Brian said.
“They’ll stay at camps for sometimes up to nine months helping out and doing what they can.
“The people that receive the help think it’s absolutely lovely that there are people who will help them, but our volunteers are just looking to do something useful for those who need it.”