“People aren't usually this glad to see me,” Brian Acheson laughs as steers his makeshift fire truck onto yet another neighbour's property to help battle a bushfire that's been raging for days.
Families living off Hillville Rd south of Taree have anxiously been watching the hills around them for six straight days since fire first ripped through the mid-north coast of NSW on November 8.
The Hillville fire — which has so far consumed 22 000 ha — came dangerously close to Mr Acheson's house at Tinonee.
With Rural Fire Service resources stretched, he loaded two 1000 litre water tanks and a pump he bought off eBay onto the back of an old farm truck, attached some hoses, and took matters into his own hands. He successfully battled the blaze with the help of his wife and son.
On Wednesday morning, Mr Acheson again filled up his tanks and set out to fight the fire which later in the day returned to emergency warning level.
This time he was helping his mate Anthony, who lives down the road and spent the past few days nervously waiting to see if his home of 12 years would survive.
Fires smoulder on each side of Hillville Rd. As soon as firefighters and locals put out one spot fire, another springs up.
At one property on Wednesday, a couple frantically tried to protect their home, as their daughter waited in a paddock with her frightened horses. As fire raced down the hill towards them, Mr Acheson's truck rolled in.
They rushed to open the gates to let him in.
“Ordinary people are the salt of the earth aren't they — it's what makes everything work,” Mr Acheson said.
Next door, a woman tried to beat down a grassfire in her front yard with a piece of wet cloth tied to a pole. Up the hill, she could see flames climbing the trees behind her home and her husband.
At another property, young men used branches to beat out the flames. Their mates — who had also stuck water tanks on the back of their utes — whipped past when a fire looked like it might be too much for the gum leaves.
Fire also ripped through properties off nearby Careys Rd in Hillville.
As Mr Acheson drove down the narrow tree-lined dirt road looking for fires, a man in a silver car came flying around the corner.
“My house is about to go up,” he yelled through his open window. "It's 100 metres from the back fence — it's starting to hit the treetops.”