A father of two killed battling a blaze in Victoria’s alpine region was a 40-year veteran firefighter.
Wonthaggi father of two Bill Slade, 60, was working edge of a fire at Angers Rest, near Omeo, when he was struck by a tree on Saturday.
He’s being remembered for his legacy as one of the community’s longest-serving and fittest firefighters, an as a mentor.
Mr Slade’s death is a significant loss for the forest firefighting family and the whole community, Forest Fire Management Victoria chief Christ Hardman said Sunday morning.
He is survived by wife Carol and children Steph and Ethan. FFMV and Parks Victoria have sent staff to support Mr Slade’s family and colleagues.
“Although we do have enormous experience in identifying hazardous trees, sometimes these tree failures can’t be predicted,” Mr Hardman said.
“It would have been a traumatic experience for everybody on that taskforce.”
Mr Slade had worked on major fire incidents in the past including the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires.
His 40 years service was recognised in a presentation by Parks Victoria chief Matt Jackson in November.
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“Bill was a much loved colleague, friend and member of the Wonthaggi community. He’ll be sorely missed by Parks Victoria,” Mr Jackson said.
Mr Slade’s death comes after fellow forest firefighter Mat Kavanagh, 43, died on duty when his vehicle crashed on the Goulburn Valley Highway on January 3.
Mr Hardman said despite the dangers their firefighters would continue to be deployed.
“We have to be out there … it’s a long time before the risks around these fires are over,” he said.
“I think we need to be really clear unless we get really significant rains … 100-150mm of rain, we’re going to be in this for the long haul.”
Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morison both offered condolences to Mr Slade’s family on Sunday.
“He was much loved, an absolute mentor to many many people and we send our best wishes to Carol and his two kids, his broader family, friends, and his Forest Fire Management Victoria family,” Mr Andrew said.
His death shows the fires remain a dangerous environment, he said.
An emergency warning has remained constant for a fire near Mount Buffalo and Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp said it’s strongly suggested people leave toward Porepunkah.
“Even though we’ve got fairly benign weather conditions, this is yet another reminder where we’ve got fairly fairly active fire out there that people need to stay across conditions in their local area,” Mr Crisp said.
Mr Andrews visited Orbost in East Gippsland on Sunday with Bushfire Recovery Victoria chairman Ken Lay to announce a $14.4 million program linking fire affected communities with free support programs including mental health and financial counselling.
“To all those people who are doing it tough, please don’t try to soldier on on your own,” Mr Lay said, urging people to contact case workers.
Mr Andrews said recovery will take time but a dedicated support person could help make the process easier.
More than 1.3 million hectares have been razed since November 21, while 286 homes and 400 other buildings have been damaged.