Coulson Group pilot Jonas Doherty closes the door on the Boeing 737 Fireliner he’s captaining and prepares to take off for another dangerous fire fighting flight as Australia is burning.
“It’s been extremely challenging,” the air tanker captain says. “The fire behaviour we’re seeing is totally unprecedented.”
Raging bush fires have scorched more than 10 million hectares, destroying thousands of buildings and killing dozens of people and more than half a billion animals.
Doherty’s been fighting wildfires for 15 years.
He’s been in New South Wales since August and says this unimaginable disaster is the worst he’s ever seen.
“It’s total devastation,” Doherty says. “You can see houses burning and there’s an eerie sense to it when the dark smoke is creating a dark shadow and it feels like it’s late evening even though it’s the middle of the day.”
This is Coulson Group‘s 19th year battling blazes in Australia. The Port Alberni company, which now has crews in Australia year-round, currently has aerial fire fighting teams, helicopters and planes in fire-ravaged country’s two hardest-hit states.
“It’s an extremely dangerous job but at the end of the day, we’re doing it to try and offer the fire fighters, who are in more danger just a little bit more protection,” Foster Coulson of Coulson Group explains.
Crews on the ground — many of whom are volunteer fire fighters — are facing walls of flames, unpredictable winds, and searing heat as they try to contain the blazes and save lives.
“I didn’t think we were going to be saved,” says Rae Harvey, who had to be evacuated by boat as fire engulfed her Wild2Free Kangaroo Sanctuary in Runnyford, New South Wales. “I thought we were going to burn alive and if it had not been for the river, I probably won’t be here today.”
Sadly, many of her kangaroos perished.
“I thought they were all gonna be dead,” says a distraught and sobbing Harvey. “There was so much smoke and fire, I didn’t think there was going to be any alive.”