The NSW Bushfires Coronial Inquiry has heard how a fire tornado sent smoke and flames six kilometres into the air, created wind speeds of more than 320 kilometres an hour, and flipped a 10-tonne fire truck, killing a Rural Fire Service volunteer. Culcairn firefighter Samuel McPaul died and two other members of the brigade were injured when the tornado hit their fire truck at Jingellic, near the NSW–Victorian border on December 30, 2019.
Inquiry shown video of ‘extreme’ fire tornado that flipped fire truck, killing RFS volunteer Samuel McPaul
The inquiry on Tuesday heard the tornado, also known as a fire vortex, came from the Green Valley fire, which was started by lightning the day before.
Statements to the inquest from RFS members defending a property nearby described watching the fire move towards them and the destruction it caused.
“The winds were picking up a lot and it was getting very hot,” RFS member Mark Reeves said in his statement.
“I could see the fire getting bigger and I could tell we were in for a shit fight if it went on.”
RFS group Captain John Hawkins said he could see the tornado coming down the Green Valley Mountain towards them.
“As I looked up the hill I could see a large whirlwind or tornado starting to build up,” Captain Hawkins said.
“It was a large column of black smoke swirling in a clockwise direction and throwing burning logs and sticks out into “I hadn’t seen anything like this tornado before.”
‘Rare and extreme’
A report read to the inquiry from the Bureau of Meteorology said the conditions were ripe for fire vortexes (or tornados) due to the low humidity, high temperatures, and strong winds.
It said this type of weather event was “rare and extreme”.
The report estimated the winds in the tornado at Jingellic were in excess of 320 kilometres per hour and its path of destruction around 60 metres wide, however it went for just a few minutes.
“The fire tornado had burnt and sucked everything from the ground,” the report said.
“Trees in the damage path were torn out of the ground and thrown, in some cases, 100 metres to the south.”
The Green Valley fire burned 46,000 hectares and continued for 53 days.
Tomorrow, an inquest will begin into the death of Samuel McPaul.