Emotional return for Sunraysia firefighters#

EMOTIONS were high as exhausted local fire fighters and relieved family members reunited at Mildura Airport on Monday afternoon.

Fourteen firies from the NSW Rural Fire Service's Lower Western District including Buronga, Dareton, Gol Gol and Curlwaa brigades, flew out of Mildura last Thursday to assist the operations throughout NSW.

Lower Western Zone group captain Ray Hill said he was "incredibly thankful" that each member of his team, who spent the majority of their time in and around Tumut and Batlow, NSW, returned home safely.

"The plan when we left was to have all fourteen return home safe, and that's what's happened," he said.

"Most of it was dark while we were working, when the front comes through, it's like night... but you could actually really see the devastation in the daylight.

"It's not something you forget in a hurry... it was just terrible."

Mr Hill described the four-day ordeal as "mentally exhausting", with crews undertaking 13 hour days in harrowing conditions.

"When we arrived, we started preparing for Saturday, because they had always predicted Saturday would be really bad," he said.

"But then Friday afternoon it warmed up, the wind popped up and away (the fire) went, earlier than expected -- that's how quick it can happen."

The team then travelled to Batlow over the weekend to assist crews.

"We were part of the team there, the local brigade and fire and rescue... We took the spot fires that were popping up out of the main fire and protecting houses," Mr Hill said.

"Batlow wasn't as bad off as they initially thought, they said it was undefendable, but I think there was a very small percentage of houses lost."

Mr Hill said there was a "lesson to be learned" for Sunraysia residents in the wake of the national tragedy.

"Have your house prepared... keep the lawns mowed, keep it clear of rubbish and stuff around it," he said.

"(In Sunraysia) if you have a grassfire at your back fence and you've got stuff around your house; away it goes."

NSW Rural Fire Service Lower Western district manager Superintendent Steve Walker said the crew had experienced "fire behaviour like they'd never seen before".

"Every manager's nightmare is that someone may not come home," he said.

"It'll be interesting to hear some of their stories now that they are home safely.

"They're a good crew with a good leader, and they work well together.

"I suggest most of them might want to just grab a beer upon arrival and the rest will want to just give their families a hug."