Jingellic community planning avenue of honour for firefighter Samuel McPaul

Six months after the horrific fire that took the life of firefighter Samuel McPaul, plans are progressing to create a memorial in his memory.

A two-kilometre section of road in Jingellic in NSW's South West Slopes, that follows the Murray River, passing the site where Mr McPaul was killed and two others were injured, will become an avenue of honour.

It is close to the home of Alby Maras, who with Rob Bulle is leading the project.

"There will be a wayside stop and covered area, so people can stop and read about why this avenue of trees is here," he said.

"You get a lot of tourists through here; even though it's dirt all the way through, it is a scenic drive along the Murray River.

"It will be done all through voluntary work, and we hope to involve Rural Fire Service - it will be a community effort.

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"I'm a builder, so I'll probably build the shelter, as well as help with the trees - I've got the machinery and so does Rob."

Mr Bulle raised the memorial at an early meeting of the Jingellic bushfire recovery committee, which formed soon after the Green Valley fire was brought under control at the end of January.

"I thought it would be a good thing to do, to mark the event," he said.

The Green Valley started at Jingellic and crossed the river, burning through and past Corryong. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

The Green Valley started at Jingellic and crossed the river, burning through and past Corryong. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

"It started up in the hills over here, it jumped the river in many spots and within 24 hours it was in Corryong.

"Unfortunately, we lost young Sam McPaul probably less than a kilometre from where we're standing.

"The fire brigade has approached his family and they've agreed to it all.

"We want to have information behind perspex or glass, with a map of the fire ground, so people can have a look at how many hectares it burnt - all the way to bloody Geehi."

The stretch of road, about five kilometres from the Jingellic township, will be a grand sight when it is lined with 135 pin oak trees.

How it will look like upon completion - how it looks, today - couldn't be more different to the "black, depressing" landscape left by the fire tornado.

"We were here fighting it with hoses, and it was jumping over our heads all afternoon," Mr Bulle said.

"It was unbelievable what was happening. Every other fire I've ever been to in my life has been a campfire, compared to this fire.

"This was a hell of a fire."

Mr Maras, Jingellic Fire Brigade captain, was on the fire ground along River Road with Mr Bulle on December 30.

"We were in two different trucks, and you could hear the roar and the thunder, it was unbelievable and horrific," he said.

"We got out of it unscathed, but one didn't.

"It was really an unfortunate accident, no one could have prevented it or saw it coming."

Mr McPaul, a 28-year-old expectant father, described as "a beautiful young man" by RFS head Patrick Westwood, has not left the minds of the Jingellic community since his death.

Mary Hoodless, who is also part of the recovery committee, said he had selflessly put himself in danger for the sake of others.

TEAM: Mary Hoodless, pictured assembling food packs in January, is part of the Jingellic bushfire recovery committee working on community projects. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

TEAM: Mary Hoodless, pictured assembling food packs in January, is part of the Jingellic bushfire recovery committee working on community projects. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

"I absolutely commend him, and I think often of his wife and child and their journey without him," she said.

"He came to defend our community ... I think we owe that [recognition] to him, as a volunteer."

The recovery committee has met multiple times since the beginning of the year, with COVID-19 impeding clean-up efforts and plans for events.

"We mobilised early and as a result of mobilising early, we've been able to provide an enormous amount of community support," Ms Hoodless said.

"We've had a willing and generous team; everyone's been impacted, but they've said 'What about others?'

"Then of course, we had COVID.

"I've worked quite hard to get a BlazeAid camp back running; we've got a lot of farmers with a lot of fencing to do on both sides of the border ... people have done their best, but it's a time of fatigue now."

A BlazeAid camp will be re-established at the Jingellic showgrounds on August 6 and will also cater for Walwa and Corryong.

"We have a generous volunteer prepared to open the camp and we're really needing some volunteers to take part," she said.

Mr Bulle is among the farmers still working to replace fencing and to clean up.

"We've had a massive fencing program; we lost 130 kilometres of fencing," he said.

"It's been a big workload, but we've stuck in.

"BlazeAid helped a lot of people both in Victoria and NSW, and they were based here for a long time.

"There's been a lot of government support."

Mr Bulle said it was not just the firefighters, or strangers who donated their time and resources, who needed to be recognised for their efforts.

"During the fire, the local women put a huge effort in," he said.

"There were people injured down here at Alby's, and emergency services weren't allowed to get in.

"Some of these women, they nursed victims that first night of the fire, for hours.

"They put in some huge hours in the shed there [at the showgrounds].

"They looked after firefighters, and the community really pulled together at Jingellic."

As a symbol of the contribution made by the firefighting community, there is another project in the works through the Jingellic recovery committee.

A raised, 20-metre-long deck overlooking the Murray River would be built on Crown land next to the Jingellic pub, and after completion handed to Snowy Valleys Council, which is supporting the project.

The deck will recognise all firefighters - those involved in this summer's fire, and others. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

The deck will recognise all firefighters - those involved in this summer's fire, and others. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

The committee has applied for a grant through Crown lands, but is seeking other potential funding sources for the deck, which will be commemorative and provide a space for reflection.

Greater Hume Council has been integral to the Samuel McPaul memorial getting off the ground.

The council has been asked to put forward a list of projects to the federal government's local road and community infrastructure program, and requested $125,000 for the memorial.

General manager Steven Pinnuck was confident all projects would meet the funding criteria.

"That cost will cover the tree panting, the rest area and information bay, and storyboards," he said.

"It might be four or five weeks, hopefully, [that we know of the application's result].

Greater Hume Council has been praised for its response to the Green Valley fire, facilitating one of many community gatherings with Snowy Valleys Council, including this one at the end of January.

Greater Hume Council has been praised for its response to the Green Valley fire, facilitating one of many community gatherings with Snowy Valleys Council, including this one at the end of January.

"The project has to be completed by the end of next year in any case, but certainly some members of the Jingellic community have expressed a desire to push ahead with roadworks, and if we can accommodate that, we will."

Mr Pinnuck thought it was a great idea, when the memorial was raised with the recovery committee.

"Obviously, there are a lot of sensitivities about it, and approval has been sought from the family, which is the first, important step," he said.

"Now, I think it's incumbent upon council and the community to ensure that we do the project justice.

"It's an extraordinarily resilient community in that area - whether they be in Greater Hume or Snowy Valleys councils.

"It's [the fire] touched a lot of residents, some of whom will probably have challenges for some time to come.

"Perhaps a project like this where people can see a positive outcome, will help in that healing process."

Asked if he felt a weight in leading such an important project, Mr Maras responded what he felt was passion.

"Compared to what we've been through with the fires, the evacuation of Jingellic and all the rest ... it's not [a source of pressure]," he said.

135 pin oak trees will be planted along this stretch of road.

135 pin oak trees will be planted along this stretch of road.

"It is a big effort, yeah, but still, it's something we're keen on doing and we have a lot of passion to see this happen, in honour of Samuel.

"It will be a community effort; we'll hopefully have tree planting days.

"It will be a proper avenue and something to be proud of in this area; we will maintain it in years to come."

It is with the same quiet determination that the pair and their community worked through the fires, that they will solidify the memory of Samuel McPaul.

"It probably won't be us that see the full benefit," Mr Bulle said.

"It will be our children who went through the fire, in time when they're our age.

"When the trees are 30 years old and fully established, they'll be able to say 'I went through that fire, and we put this up then'."

This story Site where firefighter lost his life to become an avenue of honour first appeared on The Daily Advertiser.