“The ‘Washpool Road’ fire was the third in the series of big fires in the Ipswich area. The first was Ripley Valley then there was Greenbank and now Washpool (in the area of Flinders Peak RFB). The three brigades adjoin each other, with RV in the centre, Greenbank to the east and FPRFB to the west. TMRFB has been present on almost every day and on some nights at each of those fires with many members involved. This is about one member’s experience at Washpool.
At 0425 on Friday 7th December 2012 Barry, Paris and Robbo left in TM52 for the fire at Washpool Road which had started on 1st December. This is in the area of the Flinders Ranges roughly south of Ipswich. The fire closely resembles the Ripley Valley and Greenbank fires although all three had separate causes of ignition. They were in adjoining areas and they all started small but, absent prompt control action, spread into inaccessible country and then became large. The strategy in all three cases was to burn the whole of a mainly forest area within wide containment lines while protecting individual properties within the block.
We arrived at Flinders peak RFB station at 0540 and at 0550 got a roll and coffee for breakfast. By 0600 we were on route to our assigned sector ‘Yankee‘. A very welcome change from the usual ‘hurry up and wait’! There were four sectors with Yankee being to the NE. We were Yankee with no other fire-fighting trucks available. We did, however, have the exclusive use of a DIY rural tanker which, for most of the day, was parked in the Visitors Centre near the western end of our patrol line. As it happened we were very economical in our use of water and took only 500 litres from the tanker. The Yankee perimeter and our control line was as shown by the white line on the map. This measures a little over 5 km but, with all the twists and turns and ups and downs along the track, must have been nearly twice that in 4-WD distance. We had one real advantage in the direction of the wind; it came generally from the north east so it blew the smoke away from us (and towards the unlucky guys in Alpha sector).
The area had been back-burned off along the northern flank plus about 200 metres off the eastern flank. Our job was to ensure that the containment line was not breached in any way. There were two potential dangers; one was near the entrance (top left on the map) where the back-burn had gone sideways and started to trickle back down the hill to the road and the other where the backburn was travelling south in the valley bottom and thought it would be a good idea to run back up the hill onto the N-S track. Sometimes we were all in one location and sometimes Robbo stayed solo towards the southern end while Barry and Paris took care of the western end of the line. At the southern end the fire moved along the edge of the track some 800 metres during our duty period. Right along the track the fire was always well controlled and never had a chance to breach the control line.
Another risk was a number of large dead trees which were liable to fall across the control line. We prepared to chainsaw one down but our saw would not start – an electrical fault it seems. Plan B was to use our chain and snatch strap around an ‘anchor’ tree to break off the burning tree at its base and make it fall away from the road. Just when we had this set up, Len Jeavons and David Heck came by in an 81. Clearly they thought we would fail. However, Barry did a perfect snatch and the burning tree fell ideally far back into the black. We repeated the process later elsewhere with Paris doing the snatch.
Lunch did not come until 1525 and Jenny’s food basket which we took from the Station proved invaluable. Thank you Jen!
On the N-S section we used rakehoes and boots as our sole instruments of fire control with notable success. The fire moved south along the fringe of the control line and that gave very good protection along that track. No water was needed whatsoever.
Just after 1700 we were relieved by Ormeau 51 and returned to the FPRFB station. There we were congratulated and thanked by the incident controller, Kaye Healing. Then home with a diesel refill at the Shell servo.
This was a very good day for the Brigade with admirable performances by Barry and Paris.
At 1655 on Saturday 8th a night crew, John H (TM2), Maria driving and Robbo in TM81, went back to Washpool to swap with the day crew in TM52. It was obvious that Don, Jaap and Miguel had been working very hard and they took 81 home for a very well earned rest. There were a total of 13 trucks there for the night shift. This seemed excessive and so it proved.
We were tasked to return to Yankee sector with two other trucks – RV51 and MU51. Maria did a lot of good 4-WD work on the very rough and twisty tracks. Monitoring showed there was nothing firie for us to do so we did it. We went up the road to the property at 583 Flinders Mountain Road and confirmed that this had been well secured. Indeed, the occupier said that it was probably safer from fire now than it had been in many years. At about 0230 we were called to return to FPRFB Station for a feed. This we did and about an hour later we were stood down and were back at the Station at about 0500.
A day crew, then a night crew went out later on Sunday and a final crew during the day on Monday. On Monday afternoon heavy rain fell on Flinders Peak which bought our part and, hopefully, the whole fire to a close.”