by John Robertson
In May a call asked for volunteers, preferably with a light attack truck, for a major burn on North Straddie. Rory and Robbo responded. After the usual hiccups things got underway for the week of the 23rd to 27th June. What followed was as near to perfection as firies is ever likely to get!
The Rural strike force assembled at Beenleigh RFB on Monday morning at 0730. As well as Rory and Robbo in TM41 there were trucks from Jimboomba, Greenbank, Ripley Valley and Rocky Point. We changed channels from Firecom SE to Firecom Brisbane and went in convoy to catch the 0900 ferry to Dunwich. From there we went to the initial briefing at Amity fire station – which is in the north-west corner of the island. It was then that the high quality of planning for the burn became apparent. The landowner is the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Water which manages all ‘unallocated’ State land. Dave Limburg of its Fire Management section had overall charge and sponsorship of the burn. The burn area was some 700 hectares extending south from Amity. Large scale Google maps had been printed and annotated with the four sectors (Alpha to Delta), the relevant fire trails and specific locations (1 – 20) along those trails. When we were in the bush it was great to know that we were at (or not at) the required point by the number affixed to a pole beside the trail. All necessary gates on the fire trails had been opened and smoke hazard and speed restriction signs were already out on the public roads.
The NRMW fire units were there in force; so were those from Redlands Council, from Parks and from QFRS auxiliaries and permanents. The mine operators, Consolidated Rutile, provided lunch each day. There was more QFRS brass than you could poke a stick at and for a good reason. This was the first full run of their new electronic IMT which is clearly the way of the future. It uses a fixed incident control location (Amity Fire Station in this case) with a fast internet connection to QFRS HQ at Kedron and to the Minister’s office. Fire maps and other information are continuously updated on computer in real time (including by aerial observation when available) at the incident management centre and are instantly available to the Commissioner, Minister and other relevant people on their screens. The IMT consisted entirely of full-time QFRS officers with all positions filled on a 24-hour basis. However, they played to a score written by Dave Limburg.
Some things were not done in quite the usual way. The first was that, with TM1’s approval, Rory and Robbo arranged to swap crew leader and driver roles on a daily basis. This worked informally and effectively and maximised experience for both of us. At Amity, Dave arranged that each sector would have a mixture of units from various agencies. For example our sector had Adam from Redlands Council as its commander with two Redlands fire trucks, a Parks unit, the local QFRS auxiliary unit and TM41. (Adam and one of his colleagues were both, till recently, lieutenants in the QFRS auxiliaries.) There was an equivalent mix of units in the other sectors. Dave explained that this was an ‘ecological burn’ which meant that we were not aiming for 100% coverage but for something between 60% and 70% leaving a mosaic of burnt and unburned areas within the 700 hectares. This needed a very nice balance of moisture content on the forest floor – not too little and not too much. In the event there was a shade too much moisture over most of the area and the burn achieved was between 50% and 60%.
We worked comfortable hours; 0900 to 1600 each day. Most of the job was with drip torches – sometimes needing a fair hike into the bush. In some sectors (not ours) that task was eased by I-Zone units using mortars to lob incendiary capsules over 80 metres to ignite the undergrowth. North Straddie is a sand island and when a trail is used repeatedly the ruts soon become deeper and on a steep climb a truck is liable to lose traction and get stuck. This happened a few times but never to TM41. We did have a rather warm few minutes on Tuesday when the radiant heat melted some of the plastic on the driver’s side of 41, the smoke brought visibility down to a few metres and the flames momentarily crowned. This was a classic case of ‘drip torch fever’; that is to say using bugs enthusiastically when they should be used prudently. In near zero wind the guys on the torches had been lighting the bush where it ran steeply upwards above the trail and was rather damp because it lay out of the sun. They had to use large amounts of fuel in a close pattern and well into the forest to get an adequate burn. The fire created an uphill wind away from us and all was sweet. Then the track climbed so that the bush was now below us in full sun and quite dry. Despite those very different conditions the vigorous lighting pattern in the forest continued and the fire with its self-created wind took off rapidly upwards towards the trail and TM41. However, we controlled it quite quickly and prevented spot-overs so all was well.
Our accommodation in the Islander Resort at Point Lookout was splendid – a big bedroom each for Rory and Robbo with every kind of domestic appliance and a swimming pool and tennis court had we been so inclined. For Robbo, a five minute walk to idyllic Cylinder Beach for a morning and evening swim was the go. Rory did an excellent job on the social side with our Rural colleagues. Breakfast and dinner were at the Bowls Club and they did us proud at each and every meal. Dave came round at mealtimes and chatted informally with the volunteers which was very much appreciated by all of us.
In conversation, Michael Dwyer, QFRS boss of the Brisbane Region, said that the electronic IMT had worked very well indeed and that the Commissioner was delighted. No doubt it will become standard for all major incidents. The most interesting technical development was on Ripley Valley 52. John Bowles, RV1, has designed and installed a fairly high pressure diaphragm pump on their truck with a 100 metre long, 12 mm i/d hose replacing one of the standard reels. The pump produces up to 40 bar pressure, puts 17 litres/minute of water through a 3.5 mm i/d nozzle and can project a jet twice as far as a Protech or generate quite a good mist. The diaphragm pump tolerates grit or gunge in the water and the unit is neatly mounted on a small frame above the foam container and battery. Power comes from a 6.5 hp B & S geared motor with pull start. The unit has QFRS prototype approval and we will surely see it in wider use quite soon.
On Thursday 27th, a day early, the five rural trucks went in convoy to Dunwich onto the ferry and then individually headed back to their stations. A first class, very enjoyable experience for Rory and Robbo and credit brought to the Brigade. Special thanks go to NRMW and Dave Limburg.