First Impressions


Wongawollen Road again Jan 2014

Wongawollen Road again. Jan 2014

My first turnout – received the call about twenty minutes into a routine area patrol with Maria in TM52, and attended at the end of the bitumen (230 Wongawallan Road). The Coomera Brigade was in control, our TM51, TM52, TM81, a truck from Guanaba, and other vehicles already on reconnaissance along the gated tracks. We were soon augmented by district officers.
I went with Barry and Robbo to base in TM81 to get a generator and other small supplies and to leave Robbo who had to attend a Coast Guard patrol.
Reconnaissance crews reported difficulty in seeing the fire, which was behind a ridge line to the east, beyond track access. Crews approaching from Welches Road appeared to be having the same difficulty. Officers reconnoitred on foot into the property at 230 Wongawallan Road, and the decision was made to establish control lines around what may have been derelict machinery, vehicles and minor structures across a network of small ridges on the property. I was assigned to crew with John Heydon, TM2, and Barry, driver, in TM51.
From the road, access to a cut bench with a house slab is downhill by a wide, well-made road past a small dam. Before the house slab, another smaller, steeper, well-formed but unmaintained track descends a few hundred metres to another bench with a scattering of small containers (?) a derelict Bobcat digger, unused structural foundations and building materials. Beyond this area a track descends further along the ridge for a hundred metres or so to another smaller benched area, with a derelict Lada Niva FWD surrounded by a scattering of building materials (timber, plastic piping, roofing steel, chain-link fencing, etc.) and nearby a 6T (?) truck, also derelict. All of this stuff had a couple of years’ regrowth around and through it.
The wind was a very light easterly; the fuel was light weedy grass under regrowth, with good visibility through the light timber. The truck was located by reversing down the track below the house pad, above the second bench. Our work would be downhill from the truck, with the wildfire out of sight beyond a ridge about a kilometre to the east. John explained the planned control burn, which was to start on the windward side, nearest the wildfire, and furthest from the truck. One 19mm hose was unreeled and three lengths of lay flat attached, with a dial-a-jet branch nozzle, to reach the area. With Barry on the pump, John would use a drip torch to set the burn. I was to control the property-side flank with the hose.
While waiting for the signal to start burning, John and I used rake-hoe and hands to clear a line around the windward side of the property, at the edge of the steep easterly aspect slope and opposite the ridge from which the smoke of the wildfire was rising. We had some difficulty clearing areas with building rubbish and grass-covered chain-link fencing on the ground. John started the burn in a small area a couple of metres across. The fuel burned slowly, and was easily controlled with occasional use of the hose. The burning area was slowly extended to our left (north), and the right end extinguished. The far side flank (east) was allowed to burn down the slope, away from us, into the wind and towards the wildfire.
And so it continued for several hours, into the night. From the radio traffic we heard other brigades being deployed around us; burning control lines to our west, by the main access road. We could see control line burning to our right (south) off the tracks along which the earlier reconnaissance had been done. Eventually the ridge to our east was defined by a line of fire, which we took to be the wildfire. It slowly worked down the opposite slope in our direction, as our burn moved towards it down the slope we were on.
Before dark we were joined by another crew, using a leaf blower to control the fire, who extended the control line to our right (south). After dark a third crew came and extended our left flank to the end of the lower bench, where there was a lot of heavy fallen timber. They then turned their attention to the upper bench, with the house slab, and above our truck; cheerily advising us that they were setting a new control line there, that would burn down to our position.
For a moment a brisk breeze from the north caused a flurry, but then died off again.
We patrolled the perimeter of our line for a few hours more, dampening spot fires, monitoring heavily burning logs and attending to a large old hollow stump, which was well ablaze and with the aid of a sheet of galvanised stuck in the top, had become a Roman Candle, sending up a fountain of sparks that threatened our area. It was just inside the blackened ground, and I was able to cool it down. It came again later, but several gaps had burnt through and it no longer roared.
Towards 11 pm the situation had quietened down in our area, and as our relief came down they were able to help us make up, and carry our gear back to the truck. At this point Barry called us to warn that the control burn that had been set above us was now very close to the truck, so we all began to move a bit smartish.
TM1 had driven down to just above our truck in TM81, but as he tried to reverse back up the track his vehicle played up, and (as I learnt later) refused to engage four wheel drive. There were a few moments scrabbling in the loose surface, a bit of drifting sideways towards the ditch and the flames (there were flames both sides of the track at this point), a run downhill and a reverse charge to get past the loose, steep bit, reversing briskly uphill around a bend with a good drop-off one side, and a few bemused mates doing a lot of arm waving.
We transferred to TM81, and signalled Code 4 at 0011, stopping briefly at the major incident control which was set up high on Wongawallan Road.

I found the whole incident a buzz. I can’t imagine the unfortunate who wouldn’t. The weather was very kind, and it’s hard to imagine a more gentle, yet impressive, introduction to the fire ground. I’d like to thank Greg and John for their direction; I worked alongside John through the night and I’m grateful for his guidance and companionship.
On the downside, there was a reasonable expectation that we would get a meal at some time through a shift that ran for around eleven hours. We saw none. Later I was told that after prompting, some Pizzas had appeared, but most had been eaten by the command brigade before others were invited to share. As I say, our crew saw nothing of this.
And perhaps it’s my lack of experience, but I was a tad startled by the advice that another burn had been started above our position, by our exit route. As I recount above, when we came to pull out, we had active burns close to our truck and on both sides of our route, and no sign of the crew.

Wednesday 220114 1300 hours – patrol in TM51 with Paris. Along Wongawallan Road to the end of the bitumen, then take the left fork on the FWD track towards Welches Road. Take the next left, to the top of the ridge, walk down with back pack and rake-hoe. At the next fork we walked into the black and over the ridge to look west into the fire ground. There was still a lot of smoke rising from below. A smoking stump on the right hand track just beyond the fork and across the track from the unburnt grass to the south had Paris decide to bring the truck down, and we dowsed the stump.
Returned to the main FWD track and drove north through unburnt country with the intention of taking Welches Road and driving around the northern edge of the fire ground. Met TM1 in TM81 a few metres from Welches Road and were turned back.
Met with TM1 again in 230 Wongawallan Road and extinguished a blaze and a couple of stumps.
We then continued back along Wongawallan Road, foaming burning logs until out of water; refilled at Hartley Road and Code 5 around 1630.

Thursday 230114 0700 hours – patrol with Roger in TM51. Along Wongawallan Road and the FWD track perimeter. Light rain in the night had not extinguished many smokers. Again drenched a fallen tree that I had cooled the day before, and even with the greatest care managed to have a foot go through the ground into the hollow where a root had burnt out. Drenched the base of a Roman Candle near enough to the road to be of concern, which Roger reported to TM1 after code 5 around 0930.
Around 1245, in the area in my own transport, drove down to inspect the Roman Candle and found it already cut down. Greg must have had the chain saw running when Roger called.
Thursday afternoon it rained, with 20mm in the gauge Friday morning.

Iain MacPhail

Posted in Incident Reports