Each year the Department of Ecology and Resources Management (DERM) does a big hazard reduction burn on North Stradbroke. The Department manages all ‘unallocated’ State land and there is much of this on NS. By this time next year, however, most of that will have become National Park. The burns are organised by Dave Limburgh – he is also a volunteer officer in Rocky Point RFB – together with his DERM colleagues Jonathan Moore and Joshua Bull. In my experience their burns are the best planned and run in Queensland. On North Straddie they invite rural, auxiliary and urban fire brigades together with Redlands CC and other agencies such as SEQ Water to take part. This year the burn ran from Monday 12th July to Friday 16th July and the various parties were represented by a total of 18 trucks.
Robbo took TM41 and picked up Mick Pope, CF2. TM41 had been immaculately prepared; Don had the chainsaw in top condition, Geoff fitted the metal plates which very effectively protected the rear lights from the streams of sand which come off the rear wheels on NS, Jenny put very welcome snacks on the front seat and Roger as Equipment Officer brought the whole thing together. Thank you guys!
This year rurals were thin on the ground and the only other truck was T42 from Tamborine (village) RFB which provided a truck but no crew. Crew was to have been Rory Merlo from Clagiriba and Tina Saren from Wasp Creek but Rory was injured at the last moment so Tina had T42 on her own. TM41 and T42 crossed to the Island by barge at 0800 on Monday, 12th and went immediately to the briefing at the Beehive Road junction. (AA on the attached map.)
We had all been provided with maps and other details by email a week earlier so the briefing was both quick and clear. There was emphasis on creating a deep, burned buffer zone on either side of the main roads to deter casual arsonists. Dave Limburgh has an excellent system of marking the tracks with numbers on star pickets which also delineates the boundaries of the various sectors. It makes navigation and position reporting in thick forest straightforward.
There was a strong recommendation to lower tyre pressures to 25 psi to get a better grip in the Stradbroke sand but TM41’s tyres were kept at the standard 70 psi. See more below.
Comms were by UHF radio (no VHF) and we were issued with UHF handhelds. QFRS comms technicians were present and told us that the National – let alone State – objective for emergency services is complete inter-operability of comms. To this end UHF (with 1,000 channels and appropriate band plans) will be used – plus mobile phone back up if needed. EMQ has chosen SIMICO units as the standard and QFRS technicians will have SIMICO spare parts and spare sets available at all major incidents. Robbo reckoned that the comms were the best he had experienced at any major incident.
We soon went to our various sectors – Hotel for TM41 initially – and set to work. Point Lookout had recorded 6 mm of rain two days before. It was apparent that this had been patchy with perhaps 12 mm in one place but 0 mm in another just a short distance away. The trees were fairly small and dense. There was minimal ground level fuel – barely 2 tonnes per hectare. On the other hand there was a heavy load of elevated (shrub) fuel – around 15 tonnes per hectare. The shortage of ground fuel and its dampness meant that fire did not carry continuously. Individual bushes burnt vigorously but as soon as there was a gap the fire went out. This was with a wind of under 5 km/hr in the forest.
To deepen the edge burn we did supporting parallel burns about 15 and 30 metres into the forest. Because of all the bushes this was hard work and it was made harder still by lots of intertwined green vines which tripped you up at leg level or held you back at chest level. Tuesday and Wednesday were more of the same – always with the objective of safely deepening the burn in each sector including the burns on either side of the public roads. Incendiary pellets from a gun or catapult were in use. One of TM41’s assignments was to burn around the industrial site. This was simple and satisfactory but it did have a spectacular element; burning the swamp. Swamps on NS grow a very special plant which stands about two metres high. These plants burn ferociously and they did so on this occasion, blazing on a broad front just like a big cane fire but travelling across water.
Tuesday’s briefing began with a talk on air ops – both for observation and water dropping. A QFRS Helitak was positioned at Amity and some crews were able to leave the fire line and inspect it. TM41 was not among them but we did see the Helitak above us and listen to its radio calls.
Each night we went back to our excellent accommodation in the Whale Watching Resort at Point Lookout. Dinner and breakfast at the nearby Fishes restaurant was always first rate. For Robbo an early morning or evening swim at the idyllic South Gorge beach was another big plus. Lunch on the job was invariably good and on time. All this is part of David’s policy of respect for all those who are working for him. Thank you, Dave; very much appreciated.
On Wednesday evening Mick Pope had to get back home so Robbo took him to the ferry in TM41. While TM41 was absent things had got quite exciting. At the eastern end of Delta sector the wind had risen and the vegetation had dried out to the extent that the bushes burned continuously with big flame heights. This caused a spot over across the containment track into a large, difficult of access forest area (off the map to the right). This too burned vigorously and potentially threatened the Point Lookout community. In response QFRS sent the big ‘Tango’ unit across on the barge and it became a major incident control centre at point AA.
The Tango is a big, $3 million, operations-centre truck packed with comms, display and planning gear and enough computer power to run a small war. Its displays can be linked in real time to Kedron HQ or to the Minister’s office. Thanks to its efforts and, more especially, to crews going in on foot with long hose lines, chain saws and rakehoes the fire was controlled late that evening. On Thursday minor mop up and ‘smoker-spotting’ from a high vantage point was all that was needed.
Probably as a result of low tyre pressures, there was a rash of flat tyres. One of those was on T42. Its (then Urban) crew had abandoned it in deep sand ruts with a shredded rear tyre. On Thursday morning Tina and Robbo joined forces in TM41 to recover it. ‘Jacking’ the wheel meant using the jack to support the spring while we hand-scooped the sand away from beside the wheel. That done we had a problem getting the spare to go on the hub. It was nearly there but it just would not fit. So we used TM41’s spare instead. TM41 with its tyres at full pressure performed admirably throughout – climbing the steepest sand gradients and having no trouble with flats.
We crossed the ferry back to the mainland at 0900 on Friday, then visited two tyre shops in search of a replacement tyre for T42. We were told that T42’s ‘spare’ was a wheel for a HiLux and not a Nissan – no wonder we could not get it to fit. By 2030 on Friday, after much to and fro, TM41 plus spare was back in TMRFB Station.
North Straddie 2010; a lot of fun, a lot of hard work and great experience!