Two Fires and a Furphy

by John Robertson

The end of September and the start of October were busy for the Brigade. At 1400 on Friday 28th September we were paged for a turnout to a fire near Lanes Road down in Wongawallan. TM1, Neville and Rory went in 52 with Karen and Robbo in 51. Barry came in his own car and John F manned Station Radio. (Neville and Robbo had just finished car parking duties for the Open Garden Scheme.) The fire was in the Gold Coast area. I/C was Phil Young with his regular IMT – a very capable combination. The location was a steep, wooded slope with the fire burning uphill towards the control line – a bulldozed track along the top of the ridge.

There was a total of eight trucks in action plus three helicopters. TM1 was south sector commander in CV42. It was all go along the ridge track. Karen and Robbo were backburning down the slope while the three helitaks flew overhead with sirens at full blast to suppress the fire where it had crossed the line about 200 metres further along. At the same time Neville and Barry, about 400 metres farther on, were extinguishing the fire with a hose. All worked according to plan and, towards dark and with the fire well-controlled, we gathered at the roadside for a feed of burgers and chips. One Gold Coast first officer had a suspected heart attack and had been taken to hospital. He is now recovering well. The fire had started two days previously, had been “controlled” and was being monitored. A patrol at midday on Friday had reported all well; but by 1400 the fire was out of control. It underlines how easy it is for a dormant fire on a steep slope to regenerate either from sparks blown by the wind upslope or from logs with a residual bit of red rolling away downslope into the unburnt area. Brett Bain, who was part of the IMT, reminded us that we were very near the scene of a road accident to the (then) TM4 in 1995 which seriously injured two of our members. Refill with water and back to the Station for a standdown at 1900.

At 0800 on Monday 1st October we got a page to a “non-threatening grass fire” at Thunderbird Park. TM1, Neville and Rory turned out in 52, Robbo stood by in 51 and John F manned the Station Radio. The fire proved to be a permitted burn of logs and cuttings which the owners were topping up continuously as the days went on. It posed no danger whatsoever but the owners were advised to call Firecom each day the fire remained alight.

At 1000 Monday Neville, Rory and Robbo set off for a very real fire at Ripley Valley in the Ipswich area. We assembled at Greenbank as part of a Beaudesert Strike Team under Rob, 3rd officer at Greenbank, and set off in convoy to Ripley Valley RFB. On arrival we began with lunch and a briefing using an excellent map prepared from aerial reconnaissance earlier in the day. The fire zone was about 300 hectares and was bounded to the west by an RAAF firing range and to the north-east by an Ipswich Council Conservation Area. Council officers were present and were most anxious that the fire did not extend into their conservation area. The fire had started due to a “hazard reduction burn” getting out of control. The mission was to burn out the 300 hectare zone thoroughly without breaching the control lines -” especially those with the conservation area. Control lines were in part existing bush tracks and in part were bulldozed. Our initial job was to backburn about 1,000 metres of frontage along one track. This went very well with the wind largely at our backs. Fuel was sparse at the road edge but became very heavy (about 50 tonnes/hectare in places) a short way in. Flame heights reached 15 metres or more as very large and dry lantana bushes burned furiously. A patrol showed that all was well and that the burn had been thorough and was safe. We thought we were done but we were reassigned to extinguish a big stag which other crews were not able to access. This we did successfully. Then we were asked to backburn a further section. Unlike our first area the wind here was blowing from the burn across the control line. In the circumstances too long a line was lit at once and the fiercely burning parts near the road were not immediately moderated by hose. As a result there were two spotovers into the conservation area which had a massive amount of fuel. One spotover we extinguished successfully but the other was high up in a very big stag. In turn the stag was on the edge of a 15 metre drop. Attempts to put it out with various hoses were unsuccessful. Wayne, 1st Officer of TRFB, proposed a strategy of surrounding it with a ring of backburn fire so that wherever its sparks flew or wherever the tree or its branches fell would be onto black ground. This was a tricky operation as the only control was a wet line which 52’s crew provided while Wayne used the drip torch. It worked perfectly, helped by the fact that it was now late evening so the wind and temperature had dropped and the humidity had risen. That done successfully we refilled for the second time at the Council tanker and returned to RVRFB for grub; Red Rooster this time and highly acceptable. The RVRFB guys had a hard go with many spotovers, one truck struck by a falling tree and one firefighter hospitalized with smoke inhalation. He has now recovered. We drove home independently and standdown was at 2200.

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