Firefighters can struggle emotionally for many years after experiencing the tragedy and terror of bushfires, according to Vivien Thompson, the author of Ashes of the Firefighters, a book that explores the personal and community impact of major bushfires and the path to recovery.
Ms Thompson, of Muttama, will speak at a community event at Cootamundra Library on Wednesday next week, March 4, to which all are invited including a free light supper (RSVP 6940 2200).
As a firefighter and incident controller during the Canberra fires of 2003, Ms Thompson worked with the Rural Fire Service this summer during the bushfire crisis in both northern and southern NSW.
In 2003 Canberra, she said in an interview with Women's Weekly, she faced the kind of firestorm she thought she would never see again.
She described how the hairs on the back of her neck stood up as a roar came at her and her fellow crew members "like a massive freight train".
"In a split second it hit us and threw us off our feet, a car ignited in front of us," she said. "Ten minutes later we heard it coming back."
Having been at the fires near Glen Innes in November last year, where a wall of flames burned with such intensity that there was only one house left, she says things are happening now that 'we really can't explain'.
"Fires were skimming along the tree tops where there was no surface fire. It was almost like the atmosphere was on fire."
Ms Thompson's book tells the stories of nine people's experiences after bushfire, such as that of Angela Whillas, who was a volunteer incident controller in Port Lincoln in South Australia in 2005.
"The fire was pretty much out early one morning when she handed over, only to find that six hours later it had flared up again killing nine people.
"She was put on the stand for the coronial investigation for five days of heavy questioning, which was very trayumatic for her.
"The coroner who came from Adelaide decided he din't like flying to Port Lincoln so she was ripped out of her community and her local support network.
"The book talks about all this stuff that people don't realise happens to you afterwards.
"You'll see now the media and commentary is about how wonderful it is that people come together after the fires, and that's true, but there's also a side we generally don't talk about and that's what happens to firefighters in the long term."
One of her case studies is indeed herself - after the Canberra fires she was answerable at one stage to 13 different inquiries and was still consumed by it all 12-18 months later.
Despite having a strong career she decided to leave the ACT rather than continue being consumed.
Her partner Robert Flint, a fifth generation farmer from the Tidbinbilla Valley whose farm encompassing the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station was destroyed, also decided to leave and the family moved to Muttama, where they can "farm in peace".