BlazeAid was established in 2009 by Kevin and Rhonda Butler after the Black Saturday bushfires. They had approximately 3 kilometres of fencing burnt on their property, allowing hundreds of sheep to get out onto the roads, causing a traffic hazard and impeding fire trucks and other emergency service vehicles from continuing their response to the fires.
The repairs to their fences were expected to have taken the Butlers around 3 to 4 months, however, Kevin put an advert in the local paper requesting assistance. He had a wonderful response from the community, with around 25 volunteers coming to help, and the fences were rebuilt within a week. It was Rhonda’s idea to pay the favour forward, saying, “We have had help, now let’s give our neighbours a hand too.”
During the first year, volunteers worked out of the Butler’s shearing shed, their farm becoming somewhat of a tent city filled with people and their vans from all over the country (and the world). The camp ran for 11 months, where they cleared 500 kilometers of burnt fences and rebuilt an additional 500 kilometers. BlazeAid has responded to natural disasters every year since 2009.
It costs around $5,000 per week to run a basecamp. All money spent to feed volunteers 3 meals per day, maintain assets such as vehicles and replace tools, goes back into the local community. The bread is purchased from the local bakery, the groceries are bought from the local IGA or supermarket, fuel is acquired at the town service station. Up to $500,000 per basecamp is pushed back into the community, where businesses often struggle from lack of tourism and visitors
BlazeAid values strength of community. Farmer’s Nights are held on a weekly basis, giving the community a chance to come together, debrief and share a meal and build connections so that after BlazeAid has left, the relationships between residents and community remain.
During the 2019/20 mega fires, BlazeAid set up 45 camps around the country to help rebuild. In many areas, the fires were so intense that they scorched the ground so significantly that native grasses and perennials were unable to grow. BlazeAid successfully trialled a project as part of the rebuild called the Grass-seeds Reestablishment After Fires Funding Initiative (GRAFFI), teaching and supplying farmers with native trees and grasses to regenerate their lands and assist in the future prevention of erosion. This project is now embedded within the BlazeAid structure of disaster response.