Documentary ‘A Fire Inside’ pays powerful tribute to the volunteers who faced bushfires and the mental health trauma that followed

Fighting spirit: The trauma of firefighting is laid bare in the documentary ‘A Fire Inside’.

A FIRE INSIDE **** (92 minutes) M
The full cost of the bushfires that ravaged the east coast of Australia in 2019 and 2020 is recounted in A Fire Inside, a subdued, emotional documentary.

Raw, frightening and ultimately uplifting, the film honours via interview the incredible bravery of those firefighters who risked their lives on a daily basis for months on end, heading into the blazing hellscapes most people were running from.

In paying tribute to the volunteer culture that sits at the heart of the Australian communal spirit, a full and unflinching account is given of the price such selflessness exacts.

We hear of those who fought fires after losing family members to the flames, of fighting while their own homes and businesses burned. They are extraordinary testaments.

Footage and photos taken from inside the firestorm are spellbinding in the ferocity they capture: burning trees roar, eddies of flame dance about, thick swarms of glowing embers swirl frantically, as though looking for something to destroy. “Ember attacks” they are called.

Haunting satellite images show smoke from the fires drifting across globe. On the ground, photographs and aerial footage of denuded forests cast an eerie pall as people speak of the painful silence that followed the fires, the usual sounds of nature annihilated by the three billion animals killed.

The scale of the fires is thrown into vivid relief as homeowners try fending off the flames with garden hoses. The valiant effort of helicopters and planes dropping fire retardant looks pointless in the face of the fire front, the machinery dwarfed by nature’s fury.

Along with the human cost, the film details the psychological damage that came afterwards, the personal trauma compounded by administrative mismanagement.

After the initial tsunami of donations and support, survivors speak of how the all-important follow-through was a stumblebum affair. Says one: “The emergency didn’t stop the day the rains came.”

And while such enormous tragedy brings out the best in a community, the film soberly illustrates how it can also bring out the worst as signs issue dire warning to those who visit such devastated locations to loot from those who have already lost everything.