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‘We dug in’: How CFA volunteers from 390km away helped save Orbost

In the wider picture, the CFA said more than 2000 volunteer firefighters had given up their Christmas holidays, family and work commitments to serve in East Gippsland, some from the other end of the state.

A spot fire burning at the weekend between Orbost and Cann River.

A spot fire burning at the weekend between Orbost and Cann River.Credit:Getty Images

Mr Hatton said access to Orbost was cut off about 4pm last Monday, and about 5.30pm, “we were told that there was no one coming to help us”.

“We couldn’t get out and no one could get in,” he said.

“About 4.30pm, the sky turned pitch black and the fire came running across from the ridges, from the west, and just after midnight, we started having ember attacks landing in the surrounding paddocks and surrounding houses.

“So we went from fire to fire, putting them out so they didn’t spread and run through the township.”

CFA captain Mark Hatton (right) and other crew helped save lives in Orbost.

CFA captain Mark Hatton (right) and other crew helped save lives in Orbost.

Hundreds sheltered at a cricket oval, but locals who stayed at home were instructed to soak their houses with hoses and put out embers.

Mr Hatton said that over 18 hours on duty that day, there was no time to think or stand still. “We just dug in and put the fires out,” he said.

“Everything that came at us, we had to deal with as it came along.”

Mr Hatton had driven the Truganina fire truck up to Gippsland on December 28 with three others from his station.

Their mission was “for asset protection and to save the town when the fire came through. That was our plan. And we did.”

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The bus trip home on New Year’s Eve took 5½ hours.

“It was well after 12 [midnight] before we got home, back to our families,” Mr Hatton said.

Asked why he volunteered for the fires, he said: “Helping our community – in our local area, that’s what we do all year. And then, when the calls come to help other communities, once we know ours are safe, we go and do it.

“Because if we don’t, who else is going to? Helping others is pretty much the main reason.”

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