On New Year's Eve last year, Robbie Wallace woke to hear strong wind rattling in the eaves in the roof of his Bywong home and the awful premonition the bushfires he had been helping to fight for almost a month were about to get a whole lot worse.
The weeks before had been a long, tough grind for the diesel mechanic and earthmoving contractor.
His 96-day campaign started after receiving a call for assistance from Butmaroo Station, a property south-west of Braidwood, around 8pm on December 3. He drove to Crookwell, loaded his grader and travelled straight to the property, arriving around midnight.
"The North Black Range [fire] was well alight by then and visible from the homestead," he noted in the opening comments of the matter-of-fact blog diary he had kept over that fateful summer.
"On the morning of [December] 4th I started putting extra containment lines in around the Butmaroo homestead and continuing on for the next several days while the fire burnt hard, and out of control, towards us.
"Aerial firefighting was carried out all around by helicopters and buckets, just dumping water and coming back for hour after hour. Sheep became trapped in the dam mud because all the farm dams were being emptied to fight fires in the Tallaganda National Park."
He trucked a 14-tonne excavator out to join his grader and began the grisly task of cleaning mud from the dams to prevent stock being trapped and dying in the sludge.
"There were many dead sheep in that mud," he observed.
"The [North Black Range] fire continued and it was largely out of control, patrolled day and night by the landowners, neighbours and friends who had banded together with fire tanks on utes, etc."
Like many who were fighting to save their properties, he was puzzled at how little fire trail maintenance had been done and how tinder-dry bush was allowed to grow right to the edge of the national park boundary. Without an internal firebreak, any outbreak was always going to have to be fought on neighbouring properties.
On the morning of December 10, he was in Queanbeyan at a fire control meeting when spikes in fire activity started appearing again south and east of Braidwood, coming in via various fire apps and websites. He jumped back in his LandCruiser and headed straight back to the fire zone.
"As I drove up toward the national park boundary the firestorm was coming toward me, the sky was an angry red and it was getting very tense there," he said.
"The fire had jumped the first containment line so I climbed in the cab and sealed up, drove through the flames and cut a second line and then a third as the fire kept jumping ahead.
"The fire was indeed heading towards Bungendore and Butmaroo homestead at that moment."
Fortunately, the containment lines he'd cut, and the efforts of the local crews, eventually held sway and the fire coming out of the North Black Range swirled back on itself.
In the long days which followed, as the thick smoke billowed all around, he worked with the local landholder along a 12-kilometre boundary, using his excavator to shift out fallen and smouldering trees, and putting out spot fires to avoid it all igniting again if the weather turned.
"This continued on every day through Christmas and Boxing Day until about December 28," he said.
Adding to his woes was that the front window on his excavator had been smashed by a tree and twice the supplier sent the wrong part, each instance costing him $1200 in emergency freight charges.
Then came his New Year's Eve premonition.
"I'm always an early riser but this time the strong winds woke me up before dawn so I jumped on the NSW [RFS] Fires Near Me app," he said.
"I noticed the app showed fires active and running in multiple areas; the speed at which they were racing was pretty alarming. You could see that down the coast, Cobargo was in big trouble."
South of Canberra at Cooma, the emergency was already in full swing and expert drivers with heavy machinery were in desperate need.
"I got a call that morning from Cooma RFS which, as fate would have it, I'd met some blokes from down there earlier in the month," he said.
"We mobilised my grader, my dozer and multiple machines from whoever we could get in touch with and got on the road as quick as we could, arriving about 4pm on New Year's Eve."
For the next 42 days, he was rarely off the controls of his grader, cutting containment lines through dense forest and giving important access to the fire crews working throughout the Numeralla area.
"The first couple of days were spent putting in a long containment line in the Badja area, which we did successfully but there were areas we just didn't have the time to reach," he said.
"We cut a line in to try to try to protect historic Blytons Hut [in the Badja Forest] and its hand-cut wooden yards but sadly there just wasn't the RFS resources to save it.
"It was destroyed not long after we had gone in there and I think I now have the last remaining pictures of it before it was consumed by the bushfire."
Worsening weather conditions were forecast and Mr Wallace's team continued to fall back to Numeralla as the fire continued its steady march.
"On January 3rd, I was working with the National Parks [officers] going from door to door and doing property protection lines with the grader around people's houses just to give them a fighting chance," he said.
"They were really long days - 20 hours a day sometimes - doorknocking, talking to the locals and checking their fire plans each night until around midnight. You'd fall into bed and get up the next day and do it all again."
In his diary he noted: "January 4 was another really bad fire weather day with a fierce ember attack on Numeralla."
"You develop a bit of a sixth sense working the fireground about when things are going to go bad and usually you can tell by the sky," he said.
"The wind arrived early that day and began picking up the embers and sending them kilometres past where we were working on containment.
"In hindsight, we were very lucky that day. We found out later that the embers had travelled nine kilometres past us but had not ignited."
As one day morphed into another at the fireground, Mr Wallace was tasked with putting in property protection lines on Warren's Corner Rd, Peak View Rd, Rose Valley Rd, Beresford Rd, and around the hamlet of Kybeyan.
"People there were quite prepared and resigned to the fact of what size bushfire might arrive; some were well-prepared to stay, or had their essentials packed up ready to leave when the fires approached," he noted.
On January 15, welcoming rain fell. The sense of relief by everyone involved in the firefighting effort was palpable.
"We all thought that was a wrap and the machines were stood down or rolled out," he said.
"I finally went home for a few days for the first time in weeks."
But the reprieve didn't last.
The resilient fire continued to burn, smouldering in the heat within the Wadbilliga National Park.
"We were working on the Bunbury fire trail, about 6.7 kilometres into bushland and everyone grew very uneasy about the conditions when the sky once again went red," he said.
"This was January 23rd and instinct took over.
"You could feel things were going to get very bad. So we tracked the bulldozer back to a burnt safe area and I drove the grader back to the Countegany area which was by then well consumed by fire.
"I again went to work immediately putting in multiple fire [containment] lines, sometimes driving right through the fire itself.
"We had no communications because all the [mobile] towers were burnt."
That was when tragic news filtered through to crews on the ground that the C-130 heavy tanker that had been working close above them on aerial suppression had crashed near Cooma, and that all the experienced US crewmen on board were lost.
"Mobile phone coverage was pretty poor. I finally got reception back at the Countegany turn-off. Mum had texted saying that the air tanker had crashed near us at Peak View. It was a shocking thing to hear," he said.
"That tanker had been working about five kilometres away from us as the crow flies. But I had no idea it had crashed because of all the bushfire smoke around."
His diary noted "the next couple of weeks involved saving a large area of forest containing many koalas as the fire had burnt to the top of Mt Numeralla and indeed Numeralla itself; a large backburn had been put in some harvested pine area and we patrolled that day and night".
His grader was sometimes the road-maker for the RFS crews, with their tankers trailing along behind him as he cut a path to the firefront.
"A three-stage plan we effected to save Numeralla and old Kybeyan National Park was successfully carried out and the fire was blacked out on the side of Mt Numeralla," he said.
"Meanwhile we're finding places around Peak View burning again, sometimes for the third time."
He returned to the area repeatedly until finally calling a halt and packing up his machinery and heading home on March 12, after almost three months of continuous firefighting support.
"My machines were pretty battered. The dozer had a lot of damage to the blade area and both idlers and track gear needed to be replaced, along with door latches, the exhaust and a whole lot of other things," he said.
"The grader had new tyres when it went out in December but they were shot. Some of the mirrors and lights were broken, and the warning lights up top had melted."
In all, he had worked 96 days out of 100 behind the controls of his heavy machinery, creating buffer zones, access trails and safe areas which saved lives and property.
It was summer he hopes he will never experience again.
But he fears it will.