The catastrophic fires in NSW and Queensland last week ignited memories of a devastating fire which occurred near Collie in February, 1945.
The headline of the day read: "Collie blaze burns 11 homes". Eleven houses, a hall, a store and valuable stacks of timber were destroyed at Buckingham's Mill, eight miles from Collie, by fires which raged through the bush. Seven families were left homeless. Collie's volunteer firemen saved the timber mills from destruction. When, under Captain George Watt, they reached the settlement, they found fires raging. Houses, the hall and timber were smouldering ruins, and the mill was ringed by fire. There was no reticulation at Buckingham's, so when fire swept through the settlement, residents had to stand by and watch helplessly. The volunteer brigade had to run 800 feet of hose to the river, then pump water to douse the flames around the mill.
Meanwhile, two miles South of Collie, the home of Mr Harcourt-Ward, a Collie Road Board member, was destroyed, but another house was "just saved". A nearby trout hatchery caught alight, and some damage was done. The Co-operative Colliery was encircled, and mine workers and forestry employees fought the blaze for several hours before the danger passed. A fire on the Preston Road caused concern in the early hours of the day. A Council bulldozer was taken out at 4am to run a fire break. A Government surveying party camped in the bush was burnt out - only a theodolite was saved. The account of the fires highlights the limited resources available in both men and the means to fight the flames. The volunteers at Buckingham's Mill did not even have access to a ready supply of water.
It was not the only devastating fire in Collie's history. A fire at the Eastern end of Throssell Street, and area which was then the CBD of Collie, destroyed a number of buildings in the early 1900s. Photographs of the aftermath can be seen at the Coalfields Museum.
Some things have changed - firies now have better access to vehicles and equipment to fight fires - but what hasn't changed is the dedication to training to prepare for the situations they will face.
At the Coalfields Museum, visitors can see the heavy brass helmets and woollen uniforms issued to firemen in past years. Although wool is a low-risk material when exposed to fire, modern firies are dressed in much more sensible apparel, and are equipped with breathing apparatus. The brass helmets were very striking, and possibly were a morale booster, but they may have been more hindrance than help. Modern communication equipment means firemen today can call in extra help, even to the extent of water bombers and helicopters rapidly bringing water to the fire front.
Firemen have always shown great dedication and determination to keeping fit to fight fires. Fire brigade "demos" were designed to provide a level of competition and enjoyment as an incentive to train hard. Collie has produced some fine firemen competitors, none more so than champion fireman Dudley Magill. A bronze bust of Magill sits in a glass cabinet at the Coalfields Museum, together with information about his exploits. There is a photograph of Magill arriving at the top of the water tower used in ladder competition.
Read the full story at colliemail.com.au.