Excerpts from stories told by Jim Parker
I joined the Wodonga West Rural Fire Brigade in 1944, when the Brigade had a Captain and a Lieutenant who rode around the fire on horseback. There was very little equipment – perhaps a beater or two and a rake of sorts or wet bags. In the late 1940’s, some galvanised knapsacks became available, they held about 4 gallons of water and had a hand pump, and these were a great improvement for fighting a fire. We were able to get some knapsacks that were damaged, we repaired these ourselves, when repaired they were given around to various landowners.
I purchased my own knapsack, it was a ‘Rega’ and held 4 gallons of water and had a two-way pump, which was a great improvement to the gear that we had. It was great to be able to stand back eight or ten feet and spray water onto a fire. To help the Brigade, the Wodonga Shire Council made available their truck which was a great help, a 400 square iron tank was placed on the truck and a hand pump was coupled to the tank, the pump was manned by two able bodied men, it was known as the ‘Armstrong Pump’ . All went well until one evening at a fire near the old Rifle Range, going up a slight incline the tank slipped off the truck and ended unfit for further use.
On January 31st, 1952; we knew and experienced what a real fire was like. The fire started at Christmas Town, a place between Chiltern and Rutherglen. It started about midday, our team was sent to Barnawartha out onto the Golf Course area, but the fire travelled towards us doing 30-40 miles per hour; we beat a retreat out on the road.
We returned to Wodonga, but the situation was hopeless. The noise and speed of the fire had to be seen to be believed, some of the onlookers said we were dreaming. There were white hot whirlwinds of fire doing 50 miles an hour, racing across the paddocks and roaring like a huge blow torch.