'The oxygen was taken out of the air': Inquiry hears about heroic last hours of David Harrison as he battled to save his mate's property from a bushfire

© Provided by ABC NEWS David Harrison died while helping his friend defend his property last year. (Supplied: NSW Coroner’s Court.)

An inquiry has been told of the heroic last hours of 47-year-old Goulburn man David Harrison as he fought off the Dunns Road bushfire near Batlow in southern NSW, to save his best mate’s property on January 4, 2020.

His friend Geoff Purcell made a desperate attempt to seek help and save him, however he died at Tumut Hospital that night.

The NSW Bushfires Coronial Inquiry heard the pair had been monitoring the Dunns Road bushfire all day and did not expect it to reach Mr Purcell’s property, but conditions were severe and the fire created its own weather.

“In the last hour-and-a-half [before the fire hit] temperatures were the worst I’ve felt in my life,” Mr Purcell told the inquiry.

“The oxygen was taken out of the air, we couldn’t really breathe it was so hot,” he said.

After watching the fire race through a paddock on the property, the plan was to leave but Mr Purcell made a last-minute decision to stay and try to save his cattle.

“I couldn’t leave them to burn,” he said. 

The cattle were saved and Mr Purcell said he decided to go and save a hay shed as well, but noticed Mr Harrison looking exhausted.

They shared a drink of water and Mr Purcell left his mate to refill the water tank, while he went up to try and save the shed.

When he returned, Mr Harrison was unconscious in a vehicle.

A frantic attempt to save David Harrison’s life

Mr Purcell immediately started driving towards Tumut Hospital, 20 minutes away and made a call for help as soon as he had reception.

On the way, he flagged down a passing police car. 

Police and a team of forestry officers who heard the radio call for help tried to administer CPR.

However Mr Harrison died at 7.25pm at Tumut Hospital, less than an hour later.

The inquest into his death found he died from a combination of methylamphetamine use and heatstroke.

Mr Purcell told the inquiry he had no knowledge of the drug use and he had never appeared to be drug-affected.

During the inquest, Mr Harrison’s brother Peter was emotional as he read out a statement on behalf of the family describing David Harrison as ‘extraordinary’.

“Sometimes in life we come across people who aren’t famous or don’t stand out in any obvious way but there’s something about them that draws you in,” Peter Harrison said.

“Whatever that intangible quality is, it stays with you forever, long after they’ve gone.

“David had that quality,” he said.

Mr Purcell said he was a hero.

“He was my hero,” he said.

“I’m so proud of what he did to help us.”

The Dunns Road fire claimed 186 homes and burned through more than 330-thousand hectares of bushland over seven weeks.

The inquiry continues this week.

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