by John Robertson
Late May and June of 2010 brought the usual program of hazard reduction burns by our neighbours. We were asked to help……
On Monday, 24th May, Don and Robbo took 52 to Ramona Court to help the GC burns team consisting of four ‘Yankee’ trucks and an urban truck. TM52 was the only other truck there. Insp. Bill Kennedy of QFRS was IC along with Len Jeavons and Terry Whitehead as the IMT. Rory Merlo was ‘lighter in chief’. The aim was to burn the triangular area between Ramona Court and Mystery Road. The trucks were spread out along the intended burn line to prevent the fire from going back towards the houses. TM52, using both its rubber hoses, protected fully twice the frontage covered by a Yankee. It did this admirably over a three hour period with the pump running non-stop. In the humid conditions the burn was very slow and eventually the IC decided to give it away until a later date. After lunch on site and thanks from Bill and Len we returned to the Station by 1400.
The big event was to be a major burn on about 700 hectares of Army land lying east of the Goat Track from Laheys Lookout down to the road junction. This was a contact job run by QFRS. Participant brigades were to receive a donation for each truck and crew for a 24 hour day. The intended format was site preparation on Friday, the actual burn during the day on Saturday with monitoring and blacking out on Saturday evening and all of Sunday. The days were to be 11th – 13th or 18th – 20th, depending on the weather.
The following members put up their hands to take part on one or more days: Roger (TM2), Robbo, Don, Mal P, Paul (TM3), Malcolm I, Julian, Neil, Andy, Dylan, Chris, Peter W, Barry, Neville, Keith. In addition, Geoff and Neville were to man a Community Safety Education display on Saturday at Laheys Lookout. The burn was deferred to 18/20th and on Friday 18th Roger and Mal in 41 with Don and Robbo in 52 went to Canungra Auxiliary Station and there met with Paul Womersley (CF1) who was the IC on behalf of QFRS. The second officer of Canungra RFB also came. With Paul in the lead we drove round the perimeter of the site going in at the top Army gate on the Goat Track and coming out onto the Nerang-Beaudesert Road. On our drive we passed the ‘Vietnamese Village’ which is part of the Army training facility. It is a replica of a Vietcong village during the Vietnam War with its structures connected by an intricate web of narrow tunnels. During his Army service in the late 60s Don had crawled through all the tunnels. Some going! Things were quite damp through the forest and Paul decided to postpone the burn. Given the Army’s training program, the next opportunity will be in August. We got together for a bite at the ‘Outpost’ in Canungra, were thanked by Paul and arrived back at the Station by 1200.
At 22:54 on Sunday 20th a page came from Bill Kennedy asking for crews to assist the GC burns team at Lower Beechmont. It was drier there than on the nearby Army site so the GC team decided to have a go at burning on Sunday. To their surprise it burned vigorously – so much so that their tired crews requested assistance to monitor and confirm containment on Sunday night. Flame heights up to 10 metres were reported. Roger, Paul and Robbo responded in 52 and were code 8 at the IMT caravan at 23:30. We relieved the burns team trucks and were tasked to the upper section of Witheren Road where it is a very narrow track on the side of a hill. The burn had been done along the upper side of the road but there were fallen trees, stumps and branches still burning strongly near to the road with the potential to breach the control line. We made several passes along the road extinguishing those hot spots. It takes more than one go to do this effectively – mainly because the thick clouds of steam make it hard to see what is what the first time around.
At about 0200 the truck refused to start although the lights were still shining strongly. After some discussion there was nothing for it but to call for another brigade’s 51 to give us a tow backwards and a start in reverse gear. With TM52 in 2WD, the other truck in 4WD and a good chain connecting us this was easily accomplished in a few metres and at walking pace. It was fortunate that the other truck was available. Both of TM52’s radios went off (and had not revived even when we got back to the Station). The handheld VHFs continued to work okay.
We went on to complete the task at Witheren Road and were then reassigned to the extended flank of the same burn. This had access on foot only via a narrow path on a 40o side slope with lots of small rocks and leaves. It was not an effective fire break but it was a great place for slips and falls. We left the truck, walked about 500 metres along the track and used our firefighting equipment – one beater – to extinguish the fire where it was near the path. Still further along we could see the fire burning about 100 metres above the path with spurts of high flame. Despite the periodic big flames the fire front was moving very slowly – around 7 metres per hour. At this point only one other truck besides TM52 remained on the fire ground so we decided confine ourselves to monitoring the fire until daylight and more resources arrived. This worked well and the burns team crews completed the job later in the day. It did mean that we had some three hours of waiting in the dark and cold – but that is what mopping up sometimes requires. Paul and Robbo both had a nap on the ground – but we were careful to do so at right angles to the path lest we woke up to find ourselves rolling down the slope. By 0615 the humidity was high, the fire front was almost stationery and fresh crews were due on the fireground, so we walked back to the truck and drove to the IMT. There we were thanked by the acting IC and were back at the Station by 0710 on Monday morning.