Inquiry hears a ‘true bushman’ of Belowra died in vehicle after trailer flipped when fleeing fire

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CAUTION: Eyewitness and expert testimony to the events that took the life of Colin Burns in 2019, are unsettling. Australian Community Media urges caution for readers as this could be deeply upsetting. A coronial inquiry has heard Colin “Col” Burns, 72, died in his vehicle when fleeing the Badja Forest Fire on December, 31, 2019. Col’s death was heard at the NSW Bushfire Coronial Inquiry to the 2019/2020 bushfires on Tuesday, September 7. The assisting counsel to the coroner said it was likely Col could not defend his property, or himself, and made a decision to evacuate. “Due to extreme conditions and the pace of the fire, he was unable to make it to safety,” the assisting counsel said. Col was a “true bushman” who continued to live on his family farm of 1500 acres. He had some cattle on the property that was described as being remote with dense bushland, 55km west of the nearest town, Bodalla. Col was an active and dedicated member of Belowra RFS for about 40 years. On December 30, the day before his death, fire encroached his property from the west and destroyed the first of his three cottages. In a testimony to the court, Belowra RFS captain, Ewan Thompson, said Col understood the advice was to leave and seek shelter at the fire shed. Despite losing his first cottage to the blaze, Mr Thompson said Col didn’t want to leave. “He was always going to stay and defend the rest of his property,” Mr Thompson told the court. Mr Thompson had more than 50-years of firefighting experience and described conditions to the court. “I had never seen a fire behave that way,” he said. “We never had to fight fire in the early hours of the morning. Usually fires are mid-morning, (or) late afternoon when they fully get going. “This one took-off and really became extreme at nine or 10 at night … I have never fought a fire with such a big front before.” Col’s remaining dwellings were positioned on top of a ridge, making them “difficult to defend”. “No matter what direction the fire came, he was going to be under threat,” Mr Thompson said. RFS crews of Dalmeny and Belowra helped Col prepare into the night of December 30, before leaving in the early hours of December 31. Mr Thompson was the last to safely leave Col’s property. He informed Col the weather conditions had changed and fire was threatening the southern end of the valley. “I was very concerned,” he said. “I had to make a decision to leave or stay there. I decided more people were going to be at risk at the southern end of the valley, I had to say to him that I had to leave.” Col’s neighbours, Keith and Deb Dance, went to inspect their property at about 8.30am when they saw Col’s fire-strewn ute and that he didn’t make it. READ MORE: The ‘tsunami of fire’ that wiped out everything its path at Belowra They informed RFS members who reported to Police and cordoned off the area. Due to radio, electricity and mobile phone outages, search and rescue personnel could not access the valley at the time. On January 2, police detectives flew by helicopter to Belowra and spoke with RFS members. Detectives found Col’s ute positioned on its rims with the trailer tipped on its side. Both the ute and trailer were extensively damaged. Police told the court, Col’s trailer was equipped for fighting fires. Police believed the trailer flipped when the ute negotiated a curve of the narrow unsealed road. Police confirmed Col’s remains were located inside the vehicle and concluded he died from the fire’s impact. The inquiry continues. READ MORE FROM THE INQUIRY:

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CAUTION: Eyewitness and expert testimony to the events that took the life of Colin Burns in 2019, are unsettling. Australian Community Media urges caution for readers as this could be deeply upsetting.

A coronial inquiry has heard Colin “Col” Burns, 72, died in his vehicle when fleeing the Badja Forest Fire on December, 31, 2019.

Col’s death was heard at the NSW Bushfire Coronial Inquiry to the 2019/2020 bushfires on Tuesday, September 7.

The assisting counsel to the coroner said it was likely Col could not defend his property, or himself, and made a decision to evacuate.

The late Colin Burns of Belowra was described as a 'true bushman'. Image: Supplied.

The late Colin Burns of Belowra was described as a ‘true bushman’. Image: Supplied.

“Due to extreme conditions and the pace of the fire, he was unable to make it to safety,” the assisting counsel said.

Col was a “true bushman” who continued to live on his family farm of 1500 acres. He had some cattle on the property that was described as being remote with dense bushland, 55km west of the nearest town, Bodalla.

Col was an active and dedicated member of Belowra RFS for about 40 years.

On December 30, the day before his death, fire encroached his property from the west and destroyed the first of his three cottages.

A Google Map shows the location of the Belowra Valley.

A Google Map shows the location of the Belowra Valley.

In a testimony to the court, Belowra RFS captain, Ewan Thompson, said Col understood the advice was to leave and seek shelter at the fire shed.

Despite losing his first cottage to the blaze, Mr Thompson said Col didn’t want to leave.

“He was always going to stay and defend the rest of his property,” Mr Thompson told the court.

Mr Thompson had more than 50-years of firefighting experience and described conditions to the court.

“I had never seen a fire behave that way,” he said.

“We never had to fight fire in the early hours of the morning. Usually fires are mid-morning, (or) late afternoon when they fully get going.

“This one took-off and really became extreme at nine or 10 at night … I have never fought a fire with such a big front before.”

A photograph of Colin Burns. Image: Supplied.

A photograph of Colin Burns. Image: Supplied.

Col’s remaining dwellings were positioned on top of a ridge, making them “difficult to defend”.

“No matter what direction the fire came, he was going to be under threat,” Mr Thompson said.

RFS crews of Dalmeny and Belowra helped Col prepare into the night of December 30, before leaving in the early hours of December 31.

Mr Thompson was the last to safely leave Col’s property. He informed Col the weather conditions had changed and fire was threatening the southern end of the valley.

“I was very concerned,” he said.

“I had to make a decision to leave or stay there. I decided more people were going to be at risk at the southern end of the valley, I had to say to him that I had to leave.”

Col’s neighbours, Keith and Deb Dance, went to inspect their property at about 8.30am when they saw Col’s fire-strewn ute and that he didn’t make it.

Colin Burn's partner, Threlly, who lived in Sydney, shared this image with the court. She said in a statement:

Colin Burn’s partner, Threlly, who lived in Sydney, shared this image with the court. She said in a statement: “I miss Colin everyday, all the time … he is still in my heart and I am very teary-eyed.”

They informed RFS members who reported to Police and cordoned off the area.

Due to radio, electricity and mobile phone outages, search and rescue personnel could not access the valley at the time.

On January 2, police detectives flew by helicopter to Belowra and spoke with RFS members.

Detectives found Col’s ute positioned on its rims with the trailer tipped on its side. Both the ute and trailer were extensively damaged. Police told the court, Col’s trailer was equipped for fighting fires.

Police believed the trailer flipped when the ute negotiated a curve of the narrow unsealed road. Police confirmed Col’s remains were located inside the vehicle and concluded he died from the fire’s impact.

READ MORE FROM THE INQUIRY:

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