Armed with oxygen tanks, face masks and jackets, it’s often hard to tell who is fighting the blazes that have torn through more than one million hectares on Australia’s east coast.
But one Hunter Valley volunteer has gained national and international attention after revealing she’s been fighting the fires across the region while 14 weeks pregnant.
Kat Robinson-Williams, who lives on a property at Paxon, near Cessnock, shared a photo on Instagram before heading off to battle the Taree bushfires.
In last week’s social media post, the 23-year-old praised her fellow female firefighters and spoke of her determination to help communities in need.
She says the feedback has been largely positive.
“There have been a few that have come from a place of concern, which I understand,” she tells Newcastle Weekly.
“What people don’t know is that I’ve discussed it with my doctors, and they’ve cleared me, as long as I’m wearing the correct safety equipment.
“You have to wear it regardless of who you are, which I am because why am I any different?”
Ms Robinson-Williams’ story spread to The Washington Post and the BBC, while she also made an appearance on Network Ten’s hit show The Project.
Despite the increased attention, she says her situation is not unique.
“It was just a case of ‘I’m able to do it, so I’m doing it,’” she says.
“I was doing it a long time before I was pregnant and I’ll be doing it a long time afterwards, so I’m not going to stop just because a few people told me to.
“I’m not the first pregnant [firefighter] and I won’t be the last.
“Plenty of other females are on the ground doing the same thing.
“It’s getting bigger with females and people are starting to realise we’re there.”
Ms Robinson-Williams is a third-generation female, and fourth generation overall, firefighter.
She has been a volunteer with the Rural Fire Service (RFS) for more than a decade, with her primary brigade based at Quorrobolong, about 20 minutes from Cessnock.
According to Ms Robinson-Williams, some of the out-of-control blazes that raged across the state managed to create their own weather systems.
She says the crews on the ground, and affected communities, have been phenomenal in battling the fires.
“There’s been 10-metre flame heights, really strong winds, embers flying everywhere – five, 10, 20 metres down the road – and houses and backyards lighting up,” she says.
“Honestly, all the crews have been great.
“The RFS doesn’t get a lot of credit, so it’s nice for them, as a volunteer service, to get that.
“It’s not just the RFS – it is also workplaces who are releasing employees to go to those places as well.
“They’ve been told: ‘You are better out there than sitting at your desk, so do what you need to do to help out.’”
The RFS stated all fires across the state were at advice level as Newcastle Weekly prepared to go to print on Tuesday afternoon.
There were 48 bush or grass fires reported, with 25 uncontained.
The latest impact assessment, accurate as of 18 November, showed more than 500 homes had been destroyed, while 4,000 buildings were saved since Friday 8 November.
Six people have lost their lives already this fire season.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s latest fire danger ratings put the Greater Hunter at ‘Very High’ today (Thursday 21 November), with little potential for rainfall in the coming week.
The Greater Hunter Region takes in the Mid North Coast, as well as the Hunter and Central Coast.