BlazeAid volunteers are picking up the pliers

Long-time volunteer Laurie Dawson, 78, came out of retirement to train BlazeAid coordinators. Volunteers are currently working out of 14 BlazeAid camps across Australia, helping farmers fix fences after the fires.
Long-time volunteer Laurie Dawson, 78, came out of retirement to train BlazeAid coordinators. Volunteers are currently working out of 14 BlazeAid camps across Australia, helping farmers fix fences after the fires.

BlazeAid founders Kevin and Rhonda Butler know what it's like to be farmers recovering from a bushfire.

And they understand that one of the first priorities is to fix your fences in order to keep your stock secure.

"In the Black Saturday fires, February 7, 2009, Rhonda and I lost three kilometres of fencing, we had a 1000 sheep that were going to get out on the road, like everyone else," Mr Butler said.

"We started fencing, the ground was bloody hard and I thought I'll never get this done in six months so I thought I'll put a ad in the local newspaper and ask for some volunteers to help us.

"We got 25 volunteers, we assembled them into five teams, and what should have taken six months for me to complete by myself took us just seven days."

It was this experience that led them to start BlazeAid, an organisation that mobilises volunteers to help farmers repair fences following natural disasters.

After the horrific bushfires of the past months, BlazeAid is now needed more than ever before.

"There is nothing that comes within a bull's roar of this, nothing," Mr Butler said.

"It's massive, the international and national interest, phone calls from Western Australia, Queensland."

Camp Coordinator, Chris Male with BlazeAid founders Kevin and Rhonda Butler.

Camp Coordinator, Chris Male with BlazeAid founders Kevin and Rhonda Butler.

Mr Butler said the past few months have been a complete whirlwind.

"I'm running on adrenaline," he said.

"In South Australia I had to ask on Facebook for someone to drive me around because I would have been a danger on the roads."

BlazeAid currently have volunteers working out of 14 camps in bushfire-affected areas across Australia.

Mr Butler said he thought they would soon have 40-50 base camps set up, each costing around $5000 a week to run.

"I don't know if we're going to get a quarter of a million dollars coming in a week," Mr Butler said.

"But the generosity of people has been enormous and the government is now being incredibly helpful."

Last week they opened their first camp in the Snowy Valleys region, where a mega-blaze joined with fires in North-East Victoria.

The organisation basing themselves in Adelong to train coordinators for future camps in the region.

Long-time BlazeAid camp coordinator, Laurie Dawson, Coonabarabran, decided to come out of retirement to train the new coordinators in Adelong.

"I'll teach them the nuts and bolts of operating a camp, how they need to be set up, the pitfalls to watch out for, the mistakes we've made and learnt from," Mr Dawson said.

Mr Dawson, an ex-army officer, said he felt the need to give back to his country.

"I'm 78 now, I haven't got that much longer to really put in, so I will while I can because I love my country, I served my country and by doing this I feel I'm still serving it, that makes me feel good," Mr Dawson said.

BlazeAid camp coordinator training underway in Adelong. BlazeAid currently has volunteers working out of 11 camps with more set to open in coming weeks and months.

BlazeAid camp coordinator training underway in Adelong. BlazeAid currently has volunteers working out of 11 camps with more set to open in coming weeks and months.

The BlazeAid camps draw in volunteers from all regions and all walks of life. Most are billeted out each morning to farmers who need fencing help.

Others have skills that once identified quickly lead to new roles within the camp.

Bill Gerritsen, Wangaratta said once he mentioned he had previously done some cooking he was quickly appointed the camp's chief chef.

"I'm the cook now," Mr Gerritsen laughed.

"I'm retired, I've finished building my new house and now I have time on my hands.

"I've always liked volunteering for different things and there's a big need for this at the moment."

Another volunteer Nevin Holland of Young is a retired farmer with a lifetime's experience fencing.

"I'm still living on the farm, helping my son and family but I thought they could handle things without me and I might be more helpful up here," Mr Holland said.

"Whether I'm washing up, making sandwiches or fixing fences, I don't care."

For more information on BlazeAid go to https://blazeaid.com.au/

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