Westward Ho to Grantham
With very short notice at 12.35 on Tuesday, 24th Roger and Robbo went in 52, assembled in a Beaudesert Group Task Force (three mediums and two lights) at Jimboomba and all got to Grantham, which is between Gatton and Toowoomba, by 15.10. As we approached the staging area at Grantham RFB we could see smoke and fire stretching along the range of low hills for kilometers. The total extent of the fire as measured by air survey was some 7,000 hectares. Reportedly it was started by arson in about 40 locations spaced along the range. It was in a National Park but, as it burned down the hills, it threatened many properties.
There was a clearly defined strategy; i.e. to protect all the properties potentially threatened by a long, fully-linked backburn into the path of the oncoming fire. I/C was Stuart Damrow, a volunteer firefighter of long experience, and the entire IMT was run by volunteers. They all did a first rate job with coherent organization and clear tasking. Most welcome was the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed) objective. The target time to achieve our objective was 12 hours from our start time, i.e. 0300. Completion of the full backburn was achieved by 0130.
Such a comprehensive backburn is not as straightforward as it may sound. Many property owners have specific assets, in addition to buildings, which they want excluded from the backburn. Grass for stock feed is an obvious example. To the lay person withered grass may look valueless but to a farmer it is an important resource which may, especially in time of drought, make the difference between being able to retain his/her stock or having to sell them off. It means that a backburn takes all sorts of twists and turns – some dictated by the terrain and some by the requests of landholders. Thus its actual length may exceed the end to end ‘crow flies’ distance by a long way. So it was at Grantham. Roger and Robbo did a lot of this burning then blacking out and linked up securely with our colleagues on either side. Most was done during the hours of darkness.
Our team were back at Grantham RFB station by 0100 having completed their assignment. All crews were back by 0130. After a short debrief and emphatic thanks and good wishes from the I/C we headed for home in convoy, peeling off to our respective stations. We were home, with 52 re-watered, by 0400.
To Kooralbyn with Don:
On Friday, 27th November this was another short notice deployment again organized by Tony. Don and Robbo were at the station at 0450 and took 52 direct to Kooralbyn to support the local Auxiliary brigade. We were there at 0545. The other four supporting trucks also came directly to K. Eliminating the conventional task force assembly markedly reduces the ‘hurry up and wait’ element of deployment work and gets trucks to a fire sooner. Modern navigation aids make convoy work less necessary. There were several of the usual familiar, competent faces that regularly come to such incidents.
The Kooralbyn fire station is an all-Auxiliary unit and Auxiliary officers were in charge of the fire. The fire was burning in forest land quite near to the village and potentially threatened quite a number of properties. Don and Robbo were assigned to Alpha sector with Ian Richter as sector commander. We were also assigned an additional, fairly new crew member, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, so that they could learn how the job should be done. The task was the usual backburn and black out with the addition of a D6 dozer. Don opened the batting by sawing up a tree which was blocking the track. Then more backburning and blacking out till the dozer arrived at our location in the afternoon. Then still more of the same following the track cut by the dozer. It was very hot work.
Finally Don excelled himself by disposing of the leaning and burning tree of Kooralbyn. The time was around 1700 near the end of our shift when most other trucks had left. A large, dead tree was burning vigorously up its entire height and threatened to fall across the road and set fire to the unburned area. Don cut it down successfully – the technique for felling such a tree is not what we did in training – and we hosed it hard until it was right out and quite cool.
While we were doing this various reports over the radio spoke of other crews being ‘near exhaustion’. Happily that did not apply to us – no doubt plenty of drinking water had helped. When we got back to the station an ambulance crew – impressively led by Tim Quaife, our Peter’s son – was doing a roaring trade. This went well and all firefighters recovered fully.
We heard that John (TM1) and Peter Wilson were coming in 41 to relieve us. While waiting we had dinner with a choice of pizza, chicken or crumbed Barramundi and chips – yummy! Firies’ grub is looking up! Shortly after 1800 TM41 arrived and we handed over to John and Peter. They worked hard and quite near to houses throughout the night and were finally back at our station about 0300 on Saturday for. Don and Robbo were back about 1930 on Friday.
To Kooralbyn with Barry:
On Sunday, 29th Barry and Robbo set off at about 1800 for Kooralbyn with Barry driving 41 throughout. The initial story was that an arsonist had set a new fire near to the station and to houses. Subsequently this was recognised as a spark-over from an inadequately blacked out area. Command was in the hands of capable rural first officers. I/C during our session was Greenbank 1, Fabian Strangerlin.
As at Grantham, our objective was SMART . It was to burn out the mainly Council grassland opposite the station and lying below and backing onto a street of houses. Target completion was by 2400. We had an Auxiliary truck to one side and Greenbank 41 to the other. Our section ran down the side of a house and then alongside a grassland area marked by a tape electric fence. The owner was adamant that his pasture must not be touched but the tape was not the most fire proof of barriers! However, with Barry doing the burning and Robbo the blacking out it worked out perfectly.
We connected up securely with those on either side and then set to with a very thorough blacking out. More water was needed and was conveniently at a hydrant about 500 metres distant. Then still more blacking-out until everyone was satisfied. This was tedious work towards the end but very well worth it. We made up at 2215 (two hours ahead of the target time) and went for a final fill of water. At this point Robbo learned that a hydrant handle works in the opposite way to a normal tap; you screw it down to make it flow and vice versa. G41 got a free wash.
Then back to the local station, thanks from Fabian and the Auxiliaries and home at 2345. Subsequent events, or rather the lack of them, showed that the job had been done properly and the fire was really out.