‘I’m not f***ng going’: Firey stays to save old mate
Facing the possibility of death, firefighter Chris Saul chose to stay behind to save an elderly mate and his home as flames lapped just metres away.
The 61-year-old and his Rural Fire Service partner had tried to tell 88-year-old Karl Andersson to evacuate from Killabakh when an inferno started to roar through the small village just north of Taree on the mid north coast, destroying five properties, on Tuesday night.
But when Mr Andersson refused to go, Mr Saul went above and beyond his call of duty and told his colleague to head back to base while he defiantly took on the blaze by himself.
For the next 12 hours, he stood on the back veranda and used a fire hose hooked up to water tanks to stop the flames just metres away.
Mr Andersson worked with a modest garden hose around the front.
"I knew Karl wouldn't make it," reluctant hero Mr Saul yesterday told The Daily Telegraph. "I was thinking how am I going to (survive).
"There was no escape plan, there were only places to hide … (my partner) didn't want me to stay but I said there is no way I'm leaving Karl."
An eternally grateful Mr Andersson was reunited with his guardian angel yesterday afternoon following their ordeal. "They said I had to go but I told them I'm not f … ing going so he said 'fine I'll stay here with you then, I'm not leaving you'," Mr Andersson said. "If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here."
Mr Andersson was able to joke about his last stand on Combyne Rd. "It worked didn't it?" he said. "Chris is without a doubt an Aussie Killabakh hero."
Mr Andersson's daughter Trudy Alm said she couldn't thank Mr Saul enough.
"It would have been all right for Dad because at least he went out fighting, but not for Chris," she said.
"He saved my Dad … we would have lost everything if it wasn't for him."
After his night of terror in the bush, a humble Mr Saul was back on the job moving fallen trees in his community yesterday morning before resting up for a few hours.
"He'll never admit it but that is exactly what he is … our hero," wife Carol said.
Mr Saul's story was just one example of incredible heroism during the fires which have so far wiped out more than 1.1 million hectares and severely damaged or destroyed 300 homes.
Tinonee and Harrington RFS firefighter Kevin Lok had been battling for 14 hours with his crew by yesterday morning in Hillville, near Taree. He had worked through the night as strong winds turned the fire north.
"It was calm before the wind hit," he told The Daily Telegraph. "Then people started to panic and calls came through to triple-0."
Mr Lok was "inspired" to join the RFS in 2016 after he was evacuated from the fatal Blue Mountains fires of 2013.
But this round of infernos has taken it out of him.
"I'm pretty fatigued," he said. "You try to go out there and put as many hours as you can into defending properties - and today I can say we didn't lose a house.
"That's big for me."
As the fires continued to burn in the area yesterday, Anthony and Kerry Paltram were rushing around with a water tanker and pump hitched to their ute.
Mr Paltram unwound a long hose and cast it into a dam before firing up the pump. "We're just trying to defend our neighbour's place right now," he said.
"It was raining embers on our place, though."
Later in the day Rachel Wylie - who moved to the bush from Sydney for a fresh start after her husband died - and her son John found themselves surrounded by flames and unable to run when every ridge around their Killabakh home was ablaze. "There's no running," Ms Wylie told The Daily Telegraph.
"Our house isn't finished and it's uninsured."
Firefighters seemed to have gained the upper hand by about 5.30pm, something Ms Wylie said she was extremely thankful for.
Waterbombing helicopters and numerous RFS crews, including locals from Killabakh and Greater Taree, all pitched in to help stop the advancing fronts. "If we are going to save these homes we need tankers out here immediately," one RFS chief radioed at the peak of the firefight.
"What units do you need?" the response came.
"As much water as we can get," he said.