One year on from a devastating summer, The Border Mail visits fire-affected communities to find out how people are going and what lies ahead. Today VIVIENNE JONES is in Jingellic.
There is an overwhelming sense of just getting on with it that runs through the Jingellic community.
Despite kilometres of paddocks and hill tops still scorched 12 months on from the bushfire which claimed the life of RFS volunteer Samuel McPaul on the outskirts of town and left many with just the four walls of their home, these country folk are made of steel.
LEADING FROM THE FRONT
For the local fire captain, reminiscing on the day the fire front fiercely jumped his home, crossing onto the other side of the river, is still just a blur.
Communications were down, firefighters were scrambling and RFS captain Alby Maras was at home on January 30 when the Green Valley fire came across River Road.
"The sprinklers I had installed on our roof saved our house," Mr Maras said.
"There is just no time to think and plan, you just have to get on with it.
"It basically hit here on River Road and went straight over our houses into Victoria.
"It just blew right across.
"We were here fighting fires up the top side protecting sheds, three or four trucks at each household protecting the properties
"We were filling up from the river here, but the river was a lot lower than it is now and at the time the logs in the middle of the river were on fire.
"That was the intensity of the heat.
"The farms right along here to basically Talmalmo were burnt out.
"The wind was changing east to west, north to south all the time.
"You can't fight bushfires in hilly terrain with trucks."
It was only just up the road from Mr Maras' property where a freak fire tornado flipped an eight-tonne tanker killing Mr McPaul and injuring two other volunteers.
Mr Maras said while no one can change what has happened, he feels getting on with life while remembering the monumental event is the best way forward.
"At the time everyone does the best with what they have got," he said.
"There was so many fires in the state and all across the country, everyone was stretched for resources.
"But at the end of the day it could have been a lot worse, we could have lost a lot more lives.
"One death is too many but it could have been a lot more
"The end result was good."
PUSHING ON FOR JINGELLIC
There isn't much Mary Hoodless hasn't done for Jingellic.
She was one of the first to put her hand up in setting up the emergency relief centre at the height of the bushfires and hasn't really stopped since.
But for Mrs Hoodless, and her husband Peter, Jingellic is their home and there isn't much they wouldn't do for their community.
"Peter's family has been on our property since 1916 and they have certainly had their share of fires over the years, but this was by far the biggest," Mrs Hoodless said.
"We had 100 per cent burnt out except for the home - the only green spot on the place was the house block."
When the fire rolled in, the Jingellic community was ordered to evacuate under a section 37, with police patrolling properties to ensure people were out.
For the Mary and Peter, the choice had already been made to leave.
"There was no choice really, we were told to go," Mrs Hoodless said. "Some people stayed but we respected the decision and Peter said to the crowd at the community meeting that we were leaving and I have since heard later that others decided that if we were going, so were they.
"We respected the decision, the forecast was the way it was and they needed to just protect property, not to protect property and manage lives as well."
Mrs Hoodless said when they returned from a night in Albury there was relief to see the house still standing.
"The sheds and fodder was still alight so what we were dealing with was ember still going," she said.
"For me, I had lost a home in a bushfire as a young person so to see the home still here was a huge relief."
The next day, Mrs Hoodless was setting up the relief centre at the recreation reserve for firefighters who had nothing to eat or drink.
"Even though Holbrook was set up as staging, there was a lot who couldn't get out," she said.
"The first 24 to 48 hours was tough, we just emptied our own fridges and freezers and grabbed what we could."
GETTING ON WITH IT
"We moved on very quickly," Mr Hoodless said.
"We have been there and done that. We had good insurance which is very important."
But the community and family support was what got most people through.
"Everyone just wrapped themselves around us," Mrs Hoodless said. "We were never on our own.
"That support meant we had the strength to get on with it."
From agronomists to insurance support to animal nutritionists, the Hoodless' farm received immediate support within a week of the fires.
"We just had to get on with it - there was no point dwelling when we had animals and the property to look after."
While Samuel McPaul wasn't from Jingellic, he will be forever remembered as a hero in the community's eyes.
A permanent memorial is being constructed on the road where the Morven RFS volunteer was killed fighting the Green Valley fire on December 30, 2019.
But for Mr Maras, who has been instrumental in organising the two-kilometre avenue of honour along with Rob Bulle, the road-side stop will become much more than a permanent reminder of the life lost. "It is a memorial to Samuel but also to remind people what happened here on the 30th including all the volunteers that worked here and the extent of the damage that was done," he said.
"It will be a good stop for people that are passing through to read what happened in 2019-20.
"It is still raw within a lot of the brigade members and myself as well.
"But it is hard, we have had a bit of counselling which was all offered to us through the RFS but they can only do so much talking over the phone.
"But I find keeping myself busy and active and trying to get on with the work at hand helps."
Mrs Hoodless agreed that the community continues to keep Mr McPaul, his wife Megan and their son Angus in their thoughts.
KEEPING THE BRIGADE GOING
Without RFS volunteers, the township of Jingellic wouldn't stand today.
But keeping the brigade going following one of the toughest fire seasons they have ever seen has been an ongoing struggle.
"Trying to keep firefighters going is pretty hard," Mr Maras admitted.
"Some of them got hit pretty hard with their properties and are all busy working and harvesting on farms.
"It is hard to get a crew together to take out a truck.
"I just hope we don't have too many fires because I don't have a lot of members who are free."
And while Mr Maras has thought about retiring his captain title, he worries the brigade would fold.
"I've been the captain for the last four or five years and if I step down and there is no one there to step into the position, all that hard work over those five years to get it to where it is, you will lose all that," he said.
"The brigade has a bit of gear now and the trucks are in good nick and we have good members."
There is still a long way to go to getting back on their feet for the people in Jingellic.
And while a favourable 2020 season has allowed farms to get back up and running and the pub and shop are back operating, people are still struggling.
The recovery committee still meets to continue to support and bring their people together.
Twelve months on from a nightmare January and year, they will all never forget.