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“Fire, lightning and rain, surrounded by strangers” – a personal account from one of our own, and TIO support for bushfire affected communities

“We didn’t see the sun for the whole five days we were there. You could see the glow of it, and it had this red tinge to it, but there were no blue skies. There was just so much smoke.”

– Leigh Bradley, TIO Dispute Resolution Officer

Leigh’s experience of Australia’s bushfire season is all too familiar. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has published a factsheet detailing information for bushfire affected consumers and the help available from phone and internet providers.

Closer to home, Leigh shares his experience as a Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteer, and what he witnessed firsthand fighting the fires in Grafton NSW.

Leigh joined Strike Team 14-21, a convoy of CFA and New South Wales Rural Fire Service volunteers tasked with halting the fire heading towards Grafton’s town.

The experience was not without its challenges. On their third night shift, the team was caught in the middle of two fires and was forced to take refuge in their truck for four and a half hours.

“I’m in the middle of the bush somewhere an hour and a half north of Grafton, with fire, lightning and rain, surrounded by strangers in a truck I don’t know, and you just have this moment like – how did I end up here? It’s just really strange.

“Then about midnight everything calmed down. One side of the fire burnt itself out and by the time we left, the other side was far enough away that we were able to safely make our way out.”

For Leigh, the local communities made the risks worthwhile. “Just to see the people there, and how resilient they were in the face of all that – it’s pretty special. I think meeting the locals was what really impacted me. They were just incredible.”

Although Leigh witnessed the devastation to communities, he acknowledges that the impact of the fires on rural residents is unique. “It’s kind of hard for us in the suburbs to understand that kind of threat to your property. It’s your family, your animals, your home, everything that goes with it, under threat. It’s really heavy.

“I feel really lucky to have gone up and had the opportunity to do a little bit to help the community.”

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s natural disasters phone line, 1800 046 686, is open for residential consumers and small businesses with unresolved phone and internet issues in bushfire affected areas.

For more information, see our factsheet here.