by John Robertson
At 0830 on Saturday 25th July, David, Peter W. and Robbo set off in TM52 to help with a Gold Coast burn along the lower eastern escarpment of the Mountain extending from Romano Court to King Parrot Court. Initial briefing was at Romano Court with 10 rural trucks and their crews plus numerous other vehicles present. Much planning and preparation (e.g. cutting about 4 km ofrakehoe lines) had preceded the burn. The fully-fledged Incident Control headed by Jay Lockyer was run from the specialist Gold Coast truck. After the briefing this was set up at King Parrot Court. Contract traffic controllers were in action along Henri Robert Drive.
The map shows that the burn extended eastwards and downhill from the eastern side of HenryRobert Drive between RC and KPC. That consists mainly of a large block of Gold Coast City Council conservation land; 187 hectares of this was to be burned – plus further private land where properties border on the conservation area. The GCCC has some 12,000 hectares of conserved land and the Brigade has previously attended fires in several of those – for example, below Panorama Point, on either side of Mystery Road and at Bonogin. The Council has contracted fire management of all those areas to a unit within QFRS.The strips shown in red on the map were to be burnt while the light green coloured area was to be left alone. The land falls steeply away eastwards on a convex slope which gets ever steeper the further away from the road it lies. The steepness and its potential danger were such that we were instructed to go no further than 30 metres into the bush and that every crew must continuously have all of its members in sight of each other – very wise provisions; but sometimes difficult in the thick smoke. We were also warned of snakes and ticks but the smoke probably frightened them off.
The burn was divided into three sectors with TM52 in Sector ‘West’. TM52’s first job was in Leona Court. This was to start the burn at the top of the slope immediately beyond the yard boundaries of the houses. In principle, and often in practice, this gave a fairly gentle fire which burned slowly downwards towards the distant bottom of the slope. This is an ideal burn which consumes the hazardous fine fuel but does minimal damage to the trees and gives forest animals the best chance of escaping. The wind was generally from the East – quite strong early on but falling off later. The prevailing wind thus added to the fire-induced, up-slope wind causing maximum exposure to smoke and sometimes to heat for the firefighters and householders. This is normal for burns on that escarpment.The burn was, of course, started with drip torches. The other half of the task was to ensure that the heat and flames from the burn did minimal damage to hedges, plants and other prized possessions on the boundary of each house and zero damage to the house itself. At such burns the forbearance and good nature of the householders is impressive and so it was on this occasion. Inevitably someplants and hedges get singed but residents accept this as an inescapable side-effect of making thewhole area safer.
In one way householders had made things harder for themselves and for us. Many had dumped everything from heaps of tree clippings to piles of felled timber just over their boundaries and into the conservation area. When the fire reached those combustible concentrations it became intense with the heat and smoke often making it very difficult to protect property.TM52 did the burning and the protecting well. It was evident that while it was quite easy to keep the fire clear of the ‘protected’ strips at the top of the slope it was not possible to do so when it got outof range further down. We advised Sector that when the fire was towards the bottom of the slope it might burn across, ignite the ‘protected’ strip and then burn rapidly back uphill. Some hours later it did just that but by then TM52 was at a different location.
After Leona Court we were assigned successively to Java Court, Celebes Court, Lombok Court and then to two individual properties justoff HRD. In each case the task was the same; hurry up and wait, then start a burn but protect the adjacent property; that is to say the basics of being a bush firie!
About 1300 we were released to go for lunch at KPC. Lunch (from the SES) was good and we had an interesting chat with Bruce Trickey, QFRS Inspector, Incident Planning Officer and a third generation firefighter. We refilled with water from the static tank nearby, then back to the fray and more of the same. At Lombok Court we met the Clagriba truck with Rory aboard. Later in the afternoon we again refilled with water from a Council tanker parked by the roadside. (At the end of the day we refilled at Holt Road which took only seconds as compared with considerable minutes from the other two sources; it underlines what a great supply we have at Holt.) Our shift was due to end at 1800 and before that time we heard that TM51, with John (TM1), Barry and Chris, was already on scene and on patrol. We logged off at 1850 to enthusiastic thanks from Jay Lockyer, I/C and Len Jeavons, Deputy I/C.David as our mainstay on the hose and Peter as driver and main drip torch man did a first rate job.Each member of the crew did whatever needed doing at any given moment and overall did the Brigade proud. A good day and great experience!
TM51 had an eventful night. By 1930 on Saturday most trucks had logged off and the I/C truck had left so only TM51 and a Coomera Valley truck remained to patrol and monitor. But ‘victory’ had been declared prematurely.In the early hours of Sunday morning at Java Court there was a similar occurrence to that at Leona earlier. The fire came back up an unburnt strip and threatened a house. The situation was made still more difficult by a large pile of dumped timber catching fire near the house boundary. TM51 had the job of protecting it. The crew did this very effectively. In doing so they needed more water. The Council tanker had left the scene and the CV truck had nothing to spare so John called for Paul (TM2)to come with 52 as a tanker which he did promptly. Its tank refilled, 51 resumed and completed its unexpected and demanding task.51 and 52 logged off about 0530 on Sunday morning after a long night – 12 hours of first rate work for John, Barry and Chris in the difficult dark and an excellent response by Paul in the ‘wee small hours’. They did the Brigade proud indeed!