#NSWfires #bushfirecrisis: Jenolan Caves firefighter tells his story | Photos, pictures

ON DUTY:
ON DUTY: "It was the scariest thing I've ever seen," volunteer firefighter Robert Lethiewicz says of the night his brigade's station was destroyed by fire.

THE inferno that engulfed the Jenolan Caves fire station came with such heat and speed that firefighters were left with no option other than to flee.

"We only had 1000 litres of water, National Parks [firefighters] had 700," firefighter Robert Lethiewicz said as they stood facing a wall of flames.

The terrain is very steep and even though firefighters were just 70 metres away from their station they couldn't see it because of the smoke and flames.

"There was flames on both sides and smoke just blowing into our faces," Mr Lethiewicz said.

"We knew we weren't going to be able to stop it."

The situation was so dangerous that firefighters barely had time to grab their hoses and equipment before they made a run for their lives.

"We had to spray a mist of water over the firefighters to protect them so they could quickly pack up so we could get out of there," Mr Lethiewicz said.

"It was the scariest thing I've ever seen."

Mr Lethiewicz has been a volunteer firefighter with the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Jenolan Caves brigade for five years and the things he saw during this blaze will forever be scorched into his mind.

While many people were out celebrating the festive season and New Year's Eve, crews from this brigade were in for the fight of their lives as an out-of-control blaze raged towards them.

For weeks the massive Green Wattle Creek bushfire has ripped through the Kanangra-Boyd National Park making its way towards Jenolan Caves.

Then, suddenly Caves House and other historic buildings in the hugely-popular tourist site were under threat.

RFS, Fire and Rescue NSW and National Parks and Wildlife firefighters had all been deployed to the site to protect it.

New Year's Eve was when the fire destroyed the Jenolan Caves RFS station, it also destroyed a vacant staff cottage on Burma Road, the cavers cottage and cottage 11 which was a building of local heritage and significance.

We had to spray a mist of water over the firefighters to protect them so they could quickly pack up and we could get out of there.

Jenolan Caves brigade firefighter Robert Lethiewicz

"We lost spare hoses and fuel, but we saved the radios. We also lost all our records and our log books are all gone, as well as our [spare] uniforms and chainsaws, blowers, tools, first aid kits and the fridge," Mr Lethiewicz said of the losses in the fire station.

Now with firefighting operations scaled back at the world famous Jenolan Caves precinct, firefighters are just starting to catch their breath.

"It's exhausting and the situation changes day-to-day and hour-to-hour," Mr Lethiewicz said of the times during the fire emergency.

"We've just been stretched to the limit and everyone's just exhausted."

Mr Lethiewicz, like the others in his brigade, know that Jenolan Caves is a very special place for a lot of people.

WINS AND LOSSES: Firefighters protected Caves House, but lost for structures including the fire station. Photo: FRNSW OBERON

WINS AND LOSSES: Firefighters protected Caves House, but lost for structures including the fire station. Photo: FRNSW OBERON

"Once everything is back to normal it'd be great if all the tourists came back there," he said.

Meanwhile all tours, activities, accommodation and eateries at Jenolan Caves are temporarily suspended due to the fires.

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This story This inferno was the scariest thing I've ever seen: Firefighter first appeared on Western Advocate.