With all the bushfires encircling the Blue Mountains finally out, a weary Greg Wardle, the Rural Fire Service incident controller for the Blue Mountains, has returned home to the Illawarra.
This fire season he had five deployments in NSW and the ACT, including being dispatched to Katoomba on December 1, as the threat magnified in the Blue Mountains from the Gospers Mountain, Ruined Castle and Green Wattle Creek fires.
In more than 30 years with the RFS these fires were the "worst that I have seen," Superintendent Wardle said.
"The fire in the Grose Valley was on the eastern side of the Darling Causeway and it jumped to the western side of the causeway. That's never happened before. It was so dry that even under an easterly breeze it's run hard and over the top," he said.
Around New Year, firefighters were really concerned for the Blue Mountains villages, as fires encroached on the northern and southern sides of the Mountains.
He said the Mt Solitary hazard reduction 18 months ago, and the Lawson Ridge hazard reduction in May 2019 were crucial in protecting Upper Mountains villages from the Ruined Castle fire and Mid to Lower Mountains villages from the Grose Valley fire.
"Without the hazard reduction we would have been in a very bad position early on," Supt Wardle said.
He praised a number of firefighting efforts, including the pipeline backburn on the western side of Narrowneck into the Megalong Valley, which stopped the Ruined Castle fire progressing into the Megalong and along Cliff Drive.
The conditions were so challenging, Supt Wardle rated this backburn's chance of success at only 20 per cent.
"It was very steep terrain and crews were using ladders to get down some sections of it. We had a sky crane, aircraft and Fire and Rescue NSW crews around properties should it not have held. It was a fantastic win by very dedicated crews," Supt Wardle said.
Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle thanked all emergency services and the National Parks and Wildlife Service for their relentless commitment to containing the fires.
"This ends what has been an anxious, stressful and heartbreaking few months for our state and our community. So while I am beyond relieved that the threat of fire has ended, it is important to acknowledge that the pain hasn't - it will take a long time for our community to heal," Ms Doyle said.
If you are in need of support, reach out to your local GP to discuss your options, or call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.
While 80 per cent of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area may have burned, this doesn't mean next fire season will be any less dangerous.
"There's still a lot of bush to burn. There's a good lot of bush behind the back of properties to where our containment lines start," Supt Wardle said.
"Residents need to take this as a lesson and keep their properties well prepared into the next season and beyond. Now is a good opportunity over the coming months to the next fire season to get proactive."