Late on Wednesday evening, 11th January 2012, a page came asking for members to join a Strike Team for a fire at Rathdowney on the following morning. In response TM52 with Roger (TM1), Maria and Neil plus TM41 with Kent and Robbo left the Station at 07.55 on Thursday 12.1.12 and went direct to the fire site about 5 km west of Rathdowney on the Boonah Road. It turned out that the TMRFB contingent was the entire Strike Team. Rathdowney trucks were already on site and there was also a powerful John Deere tractor with a big loader which acted as a very effective bulldozer. David Heck was I/C. The attached maps show where we worked.
One really good result of driving directly to the fire was that no time was wasted in ‘hurry up and wait’ – we got going almost at once. On the way to the fire front TM52 set up its portable pump by one of the dams as shown. The site is difficult being mostly sand with crumbly sandstone rocks and very steep slopes. Evidently it was sea bed at some time in the far distant past. There is a more recent sign of the sea in the form of two old fishing trawlers perched on nearby hilltops. One of those is now a residential property and protecting it from the fire was among our tasks. Other assets needing protection were the main house and buildings, various sheds cum living quarters and the mango orchard.
There are extensive earth works across the area in the form of tracks, quarries and dams and that created a special fire problem. In many places the standing trees were bulldozed and then dumped in piles just off the edge of the works. These big trees are in heaps of a dozen or so and have lain drying out for decades. They are now like tinder and nearly as flammable as fine fuel. This means that the fuel loading in their vicinity is extreme plus. The piles are all quite near track edges and thus are liable to spot-over as they burn fiercely – and they can burn for days. Local opinion was that there had been no fire through the site for at least 20 years.
It seems that the fire originated from a hazard reduction burn on the east of the site. That fire appeared to be out but about three weeks later a strong wind lit up a slowly smouldering log and sparks from that ignited the wildfire which we had to attack.
We had a quick and clear SMEACS briefing by a member of the local RFB. Our task was to burn out the area to the east (RH side) of the line A to B as shown on the map ( in the Incidents folder)while preventing spot overs onto the western side. This we did. It was hard work for all concerned with difficult terrain for the guys on the torches and sometimes hot and smoky work preventing spot overs.
By 1400 we were nearing the bottom of the track (B on the map) and we stopped for a very welcome lunch break brought by Len Jeavons and Peta Miller. TM52 went to refill with water at the dam (going on to the main road via a wire gate as shown). Other trucks were also re-watered. TM41 continued with the burn down to point B and thereafter swung right and continued burning along the perimeter back up the slope to the end position shown.
A strong wind change had set in and it would have been good for 52 to return down the full length of the track to monitor. However, trees were falling regularly and there was a particular danger on the track near point A. TM52 was therefore instructed to go to point B via the main road and monitor up from there. Kent walked up the track, saw that the wind had caused a spot over (shown in red on the map) and so reported to I/C. By this time trucks from other brigades had arrived and they, plus Rathdowney, were tasked to control the spot over.
TM52 then joined up with 41 as shown and we inspected the site from there. The Kestrel gave humidity around 50%, the wind had dropped and it was apparent that further burning would not be helpful. Roger so advised I/C who agreed and instructed us to return to the control point. It was now towards dark.
Our job was not over. We were tasked to do a burn from a wet line along the south side of the mango orchard to protect it from the spot over. The tractor cut a track (as shown in purple) and we continued to burn up along the eastern side of that line. There was one really big tree pile which burned ferociously and threatened to cause a new spot over. Happily, despite severe heat and smoke, we were able to prevent that.
When all that had settled down and the fire was well-contained we returned to the I/C. There David thanked all present; adding that we might be needed back again depending on the weather. We collected our portable pump and returned to the Station by 2130, refilling with fuel and water on the Mountain. Roger thanked the team and his thanks were reciprocated.
The three newer and relatively young members; Kent, Maria and Neil performed with distinction. The future of the Brigade looks very bright!