It was at 5am on Saturday morning when a firefighter, who had been helping battle a blaze near Braidwood all night, came across a ringtail possum not two metres from the flames.
A glint in the possum’s eye drew Tom Gibbs’ attention to the creature. He said the pair had a “mutual understanding” as he, at 6‘11”, reached high up into the tree to break off the branch the possum had settled in.
“I saw a little blink in the trees and it was the reflection of the fire out of his eyes as he was huddled in the trees,” Mr Gibbs, an ACT Parks and Conservation fire management officer, said.
”I was able to grab the branch, reach high enough to snap it off, and we both had a mutual understanding of what was happening.”
Mr Gibbs carried the possum across the containment line and put him in another, larger tree. One with plenty of hidey holes.
He said the creature would have been burnt if he’d stayed where he was.
“[The new tree] was quite safe, and the fire never crossed the containment lines,” Mr Gibbs said.
He said after a long night fighting the fire, it was a rewarding experience to save the little possum.
“We were both a little bit tired and stressed at that point of the morning,” he said.
“But it turned out for the best.”
“It really shows all the hard work we do, it really pays off in little ways that aren’t expected.”
Mr Gibbs has been a fire management officer for ACT Parks and Conservation for eight years. On Friday night and into Saturday morning, he was supervising the implementation of containment lines to manage the fire off Nerriga Road, at the request of the NSW Rural Fire Service.
“We’d spent all night working on the containment lines, trying to keep the fire in those containment lines in pretty challenging conditions.”
“Luckily the hard work done by NSW RFS during the afternoon meant we could keep it contained.”
He said in the past he’s seen kangaroos and stock animals flee flames, but he’s never actually helped in an animal rescue effort.
“That was the first time I’ve been able to do my bit to protect life and environment at the same time,” Mr Gibbs said.
On his return home that morning, Mr Gibbs said his two-year-old daughter was thrilled with the prospect that her daddy had saved the possum.
“I got called ‘daddy possum’ all morning,” Mr Gibbs said.
He said he couldn’t do his job without the support of his wife and two daughters, aged two and seven months.