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Wednesday, May 6, 2015 – PAGE 11
By Melissa Keogh
After three months of being covered in
soot and attempting to restore what was
lost in January’s Sampson Flat Bushfire,
the unsung heroes known as Blazeaid
volunteers are preparing to wind up
Among the team of dedicated helpers
are Jacob and Helen Vastenhoud and
Pete Spargo, who for months, have given
up their retirement to restore burnt
Before the outbreak of the bushfire, the
group of more than 40 fence fixers had
never met, but now share a bond formed
as a result of the Hill’s worst disaster
since Ash Wednesday in 1983.
The Vastenhouds, who hail from Uralla
in NSW, have camped in their motorhome
at Blazeaid’s base camp in Lenswood
Parked nearby is the caravan of self-
acclaimed “Blazeaid junkie” Mr Spargo
which is his nightly retreat after long
days navigating the fire scar and fixing
The Lenswood base is Mr Spargo’s
fourth Blazeaid camp after volunteering
in the Rockleigh, Eden Valley and
Bangalore fire zones over the past two
Adopted as Blazeaid’s team leader, the
former Port Lincoln man is one of the
group’s longest-standing volunteers,
arriving at the camp on January 26.
“When the fire first went through the
ground was just barren,” he said.
“Some of the properties are getting
greener, whereas others are still dirt
black – and that’s where the real heat
was. The heat, it just killed everything.”
The Vastenhouds are also active on
the ground, assessing burnt properties,
digging post holes and constructing
Over the past four months, the couple
has witnessed nature’s darkest side
but said the smallest of victories had
sprouted from the disaster.
“We went to one lady’s property and
she was walking among the ruins of her
house,” Mr Vastenhoud said.
“Suddenly she came across a garden of
roses that were re-shooting.
“A lot of the time these people have
never spoken to anybody about the fire
until we turn up.
“But after a couple of days they’ve got
big smiles on their faces.
“What we do is important – it’s not just
about putting fences back together.”
The “Blazeaiders” come from all walks
of life and include people who have
temporarily swapped their lives as doctors
and dentists to become volunteers.
“Everyone comes back from the fire
ground black after being out all day
digging up fence posts,” Mrs Vastenhoud
“The ash gets over everything.
“You get in the shower and this grey
sludge just oozes off.”
Despite the Blazeaid camp officially
closing on May 24, Mrs Vastenhoud said
many fire-affected residents were “still at
“Everyone has moved on and people
think it should be all fixed by now,” she
“But people still have no fences, no
sheds, are still waiting on insurance, and
there are houses that haven’t even been
“Yes, the fire has gone, but these people
are still back at ground zero.”
The trio said they would stay with
Blazeaid until its final day of operation.
“There are some places that we stay
until the end and this is one of them,” Mr
Mr Spargo remains just as loyal and
said he wished the spirit of Blazeaid
could exist without bushfires having to
“I always said I’d be here until the end,
as long as my body holds up,” he said.
“Although after I’ll be having a darn
Blazeaid volunteers Pete Spargo, left, Jacob Vastenhoud and his wife Helen have camped at the Lenswood Research Centre for the past
four months, helping to clear properties and fix fences destroyed across the Sampson Flat fire zone.
Fire long gone but volunteers remain
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