Hazard Reduction Burn at Wyaralong 25/10/15

Wyaralong testTM51 left the TMRFB station at 0700 with Maria driving, Peter Wilson, and me as first-time crew leader.
Some confusion in locating the site; Google ignores the number for 1660 Beaudesert-Boonah Road and shows the location half way between the two towns, at Allan Creek. Just as we were about to radio for detail we were passed by the first of many appliances who seemed to know where they were headed. We followed. Incident Control was on a peninsular surrounded by Lake Wyaralong, next to ‘The Overflow’ homestead. Crews from about a dozen brigades attended, and Caroline was there with her new catering van, the ex-ambulance that our brigade worked on a few weeks ago.

The prepared maps showed two separate burn sectors, but ongoing negotiations with stakeholders meant that these had been superseded by a whole area burn. We’ve measured this at about 2.6km east to west, with an area of 250hA. The country is undulating, sandy soil, with immature plantation eucalypts, a light understory of mature grass with patches of mature blady grass. Easterly winds with a predicted wind change towards the north meant an Ignition Point (IP)at the extreme south-western corner of the burn area. Access was by a track parallel to the highway along the southern boundary. From the IP the track continues north to the lakefront.

Two sector commands were established, ‘Highway’ along the southern boundary and ‘Dam’ north towards the lake edge. TM51 was assigned to Highway Sector.

Dam Sector, with room to manoeuvre and favourable winds, quickly extended their burn to the north along the western boundary. To the south, Highway Sector was operating on a narrow grassy track between the proposed burn boundary, and a new, five-strand barbed wire fence; so close that a truck door opened on that side would get jammed between the barbs. The logistics of so many appliances on the one narrow track meant a slow start and inevitable traffic jams as we all tried to get behind the IP.

A 2-man crew in an appliance from Greenbank worked with TM51 setting the fire on the ground and blacking out the edge. Light, variable, winds were unfavourable, with several spot-overs over the barbed wire to the highway side, into a heavy fuel load of regrowth timber and blady grass. The truck following us was fully occupied dealing with these, with the fence between them and their appliance. Progress was slow upslope until we reached a ridge line and clearer air.

TM51 returned to IC for lunch and water around 1130, and were back on the fireground around 1200. We became the last appliance on the track, blacking out, dealing with spot-overs, and cooling flare-ups with a potential to spot-over.

Deputy Commissioner Emergency Service Volunteers Mike Wassing had arrived informally as we were lunching at IC, and came down to our area wearing very bright PPE, in the care of a young FF who put him to work with a drip torch. Good one, Mike.

We returned again to IC for water via the northern boundary, filled from a pump in the lake, (without having to take a swim) and returned to the fireground. The burn was now into the eastern half, and again we were Tail End Charlie. Trees were coming down, all small stuff. Peter and I attended to several tree fires, while Maria tooled TM51 around washouts big enough to swallow the truck.

This was the first full day using the GWN Radios. Not long after lighting up, we found that the TAC channel was unable to carry the traffic of the two sectors, but a new TAC channel for our sector quickly got it sorted.

This is what worked for me:

  1.  Turn the radio on and the volume up to max.
  2. Lock the channel settings.
  3. Stick the radio in a pocket and fasten it down.
  4. Control volume from the extension speaker/mike.
  5. Reaching into a pocket to change volume you’re most likely to turn the ‘does nothing’ knob, or turn the radio off! (How do I know this?)
  6. You don’t talk to IC on the IC channel; that’s Firecom. Talk to IC on the TAC channel, using the call sign “(Incident name) IC this is…”

We found out the hard way that it’s all too easy for the duress button to be activated by buckles or other gear while getting in and out of appliances. Maria noted that there was very little of the usual chat, “water on” etc. Perhaps people were still unsure of the new radios.

We were the last appliance off the fireground, and after debrief and refilling with water, called in Code 4 around 1830, code 5 at 1923, and home with a glass in hand around 2030. Thanks everyone for a good day’s work.

Iain MacPhail

Posted in Incident Reports