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Trevor Lenihan of O Callaghan’s Mills with his 18 month old daughter Quinlan. He was involved as volunteer for the RFS in Australia fighting bushfires in the Carneys Creek area outside Brisbane in South East Queensland before he returned home for holidays at Christmas. Photograph by John Kelly

Mills Man Spends a Week Battling Australian Inferno

INTENSE wildfires which continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of thousands across Australia have prompted an O’Callaghan’s Mills man to give his time and expertise to the relief efforts.

Trevor Lehinhan from Coolnahilla, who has been living in Brisbane for the last six years, has been involved in the voluntary fire fighting services for much of that time, after being drafted in by his father-in-law, Bill Wickman, the local fire warden in the remote Carney’s Creek area. Neither man has seen fires of the scale and ferocity of recent months where soaring temperatures and an ongoing severe drought have turned the landscape into a tinder box. Shortly before returning to Ireland for a family wedding, Trevor spent seven days straight fighting a blaze that threatened thousands of acres of farmland and bush.

“I had been volunteering on and off since early October,” Trevor explained, “but the last fire I was involved in fighting was so big that I took a week off work and joined the teams from 6am to 9pm every day.”

That blaze at Carney’s Creek, South West of Brisbane, threatened up to 200 farms, among them that of Trevor’s father-in-law.

“It’s a complete rural community there,” he said. “I’d regularly come down from Brisbane to help out on the farm and when I saw the threat from the fire, I just had to do as much as I could to join the relief effort. There’s an amazing sense of community and solidarity and determination. The rural fire services have really been stretched and people have been physically and mentally exhausted by what they’ve been dealing with.”

Trevor, who is a project manager with a civil engineering firm by profession, admitted that the situation was a worrying one for his wife, Claire who stayed in Brisbane with their 18-month-old daughter, Quinlan:

“It was a worrying time, definitely, but I had to play my part and other people have given far more. From my point of view, I know Claire and Quinlan were safe in the city.”

Conditions in the Carney’s Creek area were both dangerous and demanding, with heavy palls of smoke creating near-darkness conditions at times. The fact that authorities believe up to half of the fires have been started deliberately is another thing that Trevor and his colleagues have had to contend with: “That makes me sick to my stomach. When you think that this fire could have been avoided, it’s really an awful situation.”

The fire was only brought under control after weeks of work by up to 50 fire-fighters. “Eventually, we put in containment lines,” Trevor explained, “and this effectively creates a ring that the fire cannot get through. It means the situation is safe, but there are still thousands of acres inside the exclusion zone which are burning. What’s really needed is rain. It is storm season, but so far, it hasn’t been raining and the outlook isn’t good.”

Aside from the fires, a two-year long drought has put a huge strain on the local farming community. Coming from a farming background himself, that’s something Trevor readily understands:

“My father Michael is a beef farmer and so is my father-in-law, but the scale is different in Australia where farms are so much bigger. The drought has meant that Bill has had to de-stock. I have friends who are dairy farmers here who are now having to buy in all of their feed. That’s a huge strain.”

Returning to Ireland for Christmas has been a welcome change of scene for Trevor and his family. They were back in O’Callaghan’s Mills to celebrate the wedding of Trevor’s sister Denise on New Year’s Eve to Shane Griffin from Kilnamona.

This weekend, Trevor returns to Australia and potentially to the fire-fighting efforts once again: “For the moment I’m not needed, but that really depends on the situation. I’m ready if I get the call.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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