Bushwalker recounts being caught in Sawyers Valley fire before being rescued by chopper

Everard Curchin and his helicopter pilot rescuer, Air Attack Supervisor Rohan Aird, of Scarborough. Picture: Martin Kennealey d478326
Everard Curchin.
Everard Curchin and his helicopter pilot rescuer, Air Attack Supervisor Rohan Aird, of Scarborough. Picture: Martin Kennealey d478326 Everard Curchin.

THE hiker rescued within minutes of the hut he was sheltering in being razed by fire was back in the bush two days after his dramatic helicopter rescue.
Everard Curchin, of Carine, said he would return to winter walking at the end of his camping trip.
He spoke to Community News from the Perth Hills Discovery Centre in Mundaring on Tuesday after he almost perished in the Sawyers Valley blaze lit by an arsonist.
“I’ve learnt a lesson, but I’m not going to brood on it. I’m back in the bush, staying at the camping site here and I’ll return to Perth on Thursday morning,” he said.
Mr Curchin (67) was on a four-day trek of the Bibbulmun Track walk on Sunday when he noticed a plume of smoke in the distance about 8am.
“It didn’t look too bad,” he said.
“I watched the helicopter bombers flying backwards and forwards.
“Then at 1.30pm I suddenly realised the situation had gone from fairly ok to very, very bad.
“Trees just going up like candles; roaring candles.
“It was too late to walk out. The Bibbulmun Track was cut off in both directions.”
He sheltered in one of the track’s huts (Helena hut) but did not panic as he heard the fire “roaring like a great big engine” and he remembered thinking: “If worse comes to worse I’ll find a bald area and lie on the ground.”
Mr Curchin said the fire had looked a long way off and he had no sense of danger until flames appeared over the ridge.
“I thought it would start raining in the afternoon, but the rain didn’t come until much later,” he said.
The retiree had no reception on his mobile phone.
“Everyone keeps saying don’t bushwalk in summer at all, but I would say if you must trek in bushfire season, and a lot of backpackers do, then you need to keep watching, looking for the dangers and have an escape plan in mind,” he said.
In the air, DFES air attack supervisor Rohan Aird and his crew were passing over the hut to see if anyone was inside.
They took advantage of a break in the aerial water bombing operations for a second swoop and that was when they saw a man standing outside the hut.
“He looked very relaxed, not concerned at all, and there were 4 to 5m flames not that far away from him,” Mr Aird said.
The helicopter landed in a 10m by 10m opening that was “awkward to get into”.
“The fire basically followed us from where we picked up the gentleman, across down to the aircraft. So it was following us along.
“I’d say he was extremely lucky. We didn’t have a lot of time.”
Residents across the Hills reported burnt leaves raining down 15km west of the fire front threatening Mundaring Weir village.
Mr Aird said air intel using a thermal imaging camera reported the hut burnt to the ground five minutes after the rescue.
“This is probably a timely reminder to hikers they really do need to be aware of the terrain, monitor bushfires, wind changes and probably carry an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB),” he said.
An area of State forest ‘prescribed burnt’ two years ago was a significant factor in halting the fire.
“The fire burnt through over 3800ha of State forest and pine plantation,” said a Department of Biodiversity and Conservation spokesman. “The level of damage is still being assessed. Large areas of native forest were also burnt, reducing the quality of habitat for native fauna.”

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