by John Robertson
At 08:00 on Tuesday, 3rd April a page went out for TMRFB members to be part of a Beaudesert Strike Team to help the Gold Coast Brigades who were fighting an extensive fire at Bonogin which is to the west of Mudgeeraba. John H, (TM1), Roger and Robbo assembled at the Station and in 52 left for the team rendezvous point at Tamborine RFB. TM1 was designated leader of the strike team. At Tamborine we were joined by Chambers Flat 52, Birnam 52 and Greenbank 51. This all took a bit of time – the ‘hurry up and wait’ routine – and at 10:45 we left for Bonogin and for the Incident Control Centre at the top end of Saunders Road. We got there at 11:30. There were many other Brigades in action; all, except for our team, were from the Gold Coast. SES were there with their customary and very welcome food and drink. Police, Ambulance and QFRS were also present. As we arrived we could see the Westpac rescue helicopter dropping water on the fire – not its usual task. The Channel 9 camera came for a while.
The terrain at Bonogin makes our Mountain look level. It consists of a series of parallel ridges and gullys with slopes of fully 30%. Each gully has a score or more of nice houses spaced along its ‘no through road’. The bulldozed track was real 4WD territory – one truck got stuck on the previous day and had to be hauled to safety by the bulldozer. The track ran to the west of the fire and, given the south-easterly wind, that track was the control line. The job of the Beaudesert Strike Team was to patrol that control line and extinguish any fire which might threaten to cross it. This we did. We relieved various Gold Coast Brigades who had already been long hours on the job.
Fortunately the wind was light; a maximum of 8 kph. The fire had mostly burnt itself out next to the control line but there were a number of big trees burning vigorously. TM52 extinguished several of them. From time to time a massive crashing sound told of another big tree collapsing in the forest. A few were felled by chainsaw. It is significant that the lack of chainsaw certificate courses for firefighters meant that none of us was permitted to use a chainsaw although we all had plenty of experience in that art. The GCCC called in a tree felling contractor with lots of equipment to do a rather simple job.
At one point we parked TM52 with Roger in charge at the top of a ridge while John H and Robbo did a foot patrol down into the gully. A most unusual feature of that gully was that about 200 metres of unattended 25mm hose was lying down the first slope and, when we got to the bottom, a similar length of 38mm unattended hose with a large nozzle jet was lying down the other slope. About 30 metres off the road was big, fallen, hollow tree lying on ground at about a 45 degree angle. It was burning fiercely on the inside and from bottom to top; although the top was the root end. Quite an impressive sight. John, TM1, had the very good idea to call on our colleagues in CF52 who were in the next section along to come to the crest of ‘their’ ridge and couple up to the 38 mm hose. This they did. The resulting very powerful jet allowed us to fully extinguish the internal fire. The consequent outpouring of steam was impressive. On the way back we recovered and even rolled most of the 25mm hose.
The fire had come to, or was near, the back fences of many houses. For others it was still some way off. The plan for the evening was to backburn the unburnt area between Saunders and Leyshon Roads and thus ensure that fire could not endanger any of the houses there. Our final job was to call on each affected householder and advise them of what was going to happen. As usual we got an understanding and appreciative reception from those we met. We had left by the time the backburn took place but it seems that all went according to plan.
The firefighting gave the impression of being far better conducted than is usual at such big incidents. Much of that impression is gained from the quality of radio messages coming from Incident Control. It turned out that the guy running the radio was a young, local rural firefighter who did an excellent job. Clue there somewhere!
Before we left, the Group Officer of Gold Coast spoke to John and expressed the greatest appreciation of the Beaudesert contribution. We had a short debrief and each truck headed independently for home. TM52 was back at the Station at 18:45. A good day all round.