The week before Christmas last year, as the bushfires were continuing to burn through bush and farmland, powerlines were burnt out causing the whole of Omeo to lose its power supply.
Ausnet Services put generators in place to provide the critical power source to the district. As the New Year arrived, the fires intensified and on Saturday, January 4, as the sky turned an eerie red in Omeo, people prepared to evacuate. Those who chose to remain behind were urged to take shelter at the Omeo Recreation Reserve.
Omeo resident, Shane Peach, had been on duty as a volunteer with the Tambo Valley State Emergency Service (SES) Unit.
Ausnet was preparing to evacuate and Mr Peach was asked by the Incident Controller at the Swifts Creek Incident Control Centre if he and his team of SES volunteers could support the power supply to maintain telecommunications to the Omeo community phone networks.
The job involved refueling the generators located on a farming property just outside Omeo on the Great Alpine Road.
Mr Peach didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Ausnet gave the SES team a quick handover, including briefing Mr Peach on what duties were required of him.
The Ausnet team then boarded a chopper and was flown out of the danger zone.
Ausnet management had decided the situation was too risky for its personnel to remain in the area.
Mr Peach said the fires were heading toward Omeo from Cassilis and the situation was becoming more dire.
As he was refueling the generators at around 4.30pm that day, he witnessed helicopters evacuating people from Omeo.
“I watched eight of my SES crew wave to me as they flew out on the police chopper,” Mr
Peach said, as he remained behind with a DELWP crew.
He also watched later in the day from the football oval in town, where he was overseeing an evacuation centre, as the last Chinook lifted into the glowing red sky and choppered away.
Mr Peach said he didn’t have time to think about whether remaining behind was putting his life in danger.
The 53-year-old was merely focused on the job at hand.
Mr Peach’s partner, Gail Jones, and four of her five kids had flown out by helicopter earlier in the day as the menacing fire threatened the township.
His own two adult children, who live in Melbourne, were worried about their father and were anxiously messaging Mr Peach to check he was okay.
“I got a lot of messages from them. I was receiving phone calls from everyone,” Mr Peach said, sounding slightly bemused by all the attention at the time.
While everyone feared the worst, the fire never did reach the Omeo township.
“A wind change came through at about six o’clock (pm) and turned the fire back on itself,” Mr Peach said.
The Ausnet workers returned to Omeo three days later to resume their duties.
Still, they remain grateful to Mr Peach for taking the reins during a time of crisis and showing bravery and fortitude in remaining behind and refueling the generators.
They recently presented him with a cheque for $1100 for the Tambo Valley SES, which is based out of Swifts Creek.
Mr Peach told the Advertiser he was happy to have helped out as the High Country township faced a challenging time and will put the monies towards a muel wheeled stretcher which the SES wants to purchase should anyone come to grief on the new bike tracks being installed around Omeo.
Ausnet services community engagement manager, Derek Walton, presents a cheque to Tambo Valley SES volunteer, Shane Peach, for his efforts in ensuring the Omeo township had access to power during the bushfire crisis earlier this year. (PS)