A group of Indigenous women is fighting fires in eastern Victoria with their own brigade.
Charmaine Sellings, 52, set up the Lakes Tyers Aboriginal Trust Country Fire Authority 20 years ago.
She and a few friends were spurred into action after a house in their town burned down because the nearest fire truck took 45 minutes to get there.
Charmaine Sellings (pictured), 52, set up the Lakes Tyers Aboriginal Trust Country Fire Authority 20 years ago
Locals called them the Banana Women because of their bright yellow outfits and the name stuck.
Now a grandmother-of-three, Ms Sellings is still fighting fires with the team.
The permanent members are three women and one man but others help out when they can.
The fully-trained team has fought the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 as well as blazes in Wilsons Promontory National Park and the town of Omeo.
They drive fire trucks and use power tools including chainsaws to clear bush tracks.
In recent weeks they have been on high alert as east Gippsland bushfires ravaged land just 20km from their homes.
In an interview with Women’s Weekly, Ms Sellings said her group is widely appreciated by locals.
‘There was a sense of helplessness before we came along but we feel empowered that we can look after ourselves and our people whatever the situation,’ she said.
Crews monitor fires and begin back burns between the towns of Orbost and Lakes Entrance in east Gipplsland on January 2
‘The community is proud of us and they value us.’
Seven years ago the women allowed a ‘fella’ called Julien ‘Tiny’ Edwards to permanently join the team.
Ms Sellings said that men have always been welcome and a few have dipped in and out over the years.
‘Every now and then a fella comes along but they don’t seem to last too long. I don’t think they like taking orders from me,’ she joked.
We feel empowered that we can look after ourselves
The group of firefighters has been praised by Victoria’s Country Fire Authority.
The assistant chief fire officer for the south-east region, Trevor Owen, said it was important that brigades represent their local communities.
He told the ABC: ‘The CFA is made up of some 1,220 brigades.
‘It’s great to have local community interest in their local brigade because they know their own local community and the members within that.
‘Lake Tyers Trust is a really encouraging and successful brigade for us.’
It comes as Victorians are being told to heed of ‘life or death’ warnings as extreme fire danger returns to bushfire-ravaged regions on Friday.
Calm and mild weather conditions on Thursday will give way to extreme fire danger on Friday, and authorities are urging people to brace for danger.
Premier Daniel Andrews warned people to stay alert because Thursday was likely be the last day of respite for fire-ravaged eastern Victoria.
‘Messages will be sent out Thursday and Friday this week. They are about life and death, and people need to remain vigilant,’ Mr Andrews said on Tuesday.
‘This is not over by a long shot.’
The Bureau of Meteorology on Wednesday issued an extreme fire danger warning for the north of the state on Friday, with a severe warning for the Mallee and northeast districts.
Temperatures nearing 40C are also forecast in some areas on Friday, along with northerly winds, ahead of a change in the afternoon.
People in Carboor and surrounding areas in the state’s northeast were advised to leave late on Wednesday as spot fires from an out-of-control bushfire headed towards homes.
Earlier on Wednesday, Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville had stressed that people in fire-affected areas should leave before fire conditions worsen.
‘The safest place to be is outside those fire-affected areas and in built-up areas,’ she told reporters.
Bushfires have burnt more than 1.2 million hectares across Victoria, isolating towns and destroying hundreds of properties.
Three people have died in the fires, with the third victim confirmed on Wednesday.
Forest Fires Management worker Mat Kavanagh, 43, died when his vehicle crashed on the Goulburn Valley Highway on January 3.
Authorities have urged the organisers of a climate protest planned for Melbourne’s city centre on Friday night to postpone or call it off, or restrict it to one area.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Tim Hansen claimed it was bad timing for a protest because it would stretch police resources when fire conditions are likely to worsen.
But the protest’s organisers, Uni Students for Climate Justice, on Wednesday doubled down on their planned protest, claiming ‘huge support for a demonstration to put pressure on the government and fight for climate justice’.
Meanwhile, 200 evacuees and 66 volunteer firefighters who left Mallacoota on HMAS Choules on Tuesday arrived at Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula on Wednesday afternoon.
More than 4000 people were originally stuck in Mallacoota, while the final 142 believed to remain stranded are expected to be airlifted out when conditions allow.
Fire crews put out spot fires on January 4, 2020 in Sarsfield, Australia
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