When Radios Don’t Work

Oct 11 2014_800x600FIRECALL: MTAM= turnout GRASS FIRE, BACK OF LOT 28, Welches Rd, WONGAWALLAN, G14M1
Arrrrgh! Not #$&% Welches Road again! The Ignition Point was beyond the bitumen off Welches Road, downslope from the Eagle Heights I-Zone at Magnetic Drive. Paul, from Coomera Valley had control, and put Greg in charge of Operations.
This scribe started off in the back of TM51 with Melinda, Maria, and Don, Gary driving, with Grai as crewie. Keith and Val were in TM41. That would place Paris, Peta, and Kent in TM52, I think. Anyway, that didn’t last long, as we were soon all sent hither and yon to join other crews from other brigades in the area.

The fire was in a large area unburnt in January, and the opportunity presented to deal with this hazard. The area is defined by Welches Road in the north; on the east and south, by the Wongawallan 4WD track and bike path, from Welches Road to January’s burn near the end of the bitumen on Wongawallan Road. The western flank would have to be defined by a control line running north from there, through the light cover down to the IP. Peta joined a recce crew to walk this line.
With a light breeze tending up slope, the plan was to set one control fire along this walked line, with a second line, Sector Alpha, to start from the point where the Wongawallan 4WD track left the edge of January’s burn, and eventually up to Welches Road. Welches Road itself would be the northern limit, with the fire expected to reach there the following day. Our crews were assigned to Sector Alpha and drove via the Oxenford and Wongawallan Roads, through the gate, and up to the top of the ridge. There we were reassigned and began the burn.
Immediately we put the fire on the ground, the breeze brought the smoke back to us, and so it was to be all night. As the burn progressed, and appliances came and went, the crews were reshuffled.
This was a perfect example of firefighters from different brigades working seamlessly with each other and with each other’s appliances

At the end of the evening Kent was crew leader to Robbo, Geoff, and Iain. Around eleven, Paris came in TM81 and took Melinda and us three old blokes off the fireground. I was in the shower just after midnight.
The next day some of gathered at the station at 1330 to go again. I was with Barry in TM41, and Paris, Mark and Matt in TM52. The night shift was leaving after bringing the previous night’s burn down to Welches Road, and we were called to black out along the road. The burn was still going strong in the centre, with occasional plumes of smoke going up as it took hold of heavier fuel.
The light easterly swung south-east with a gust, and shortly after all units were called to where fire had appeared to the west of the containment, south-west of and uphill from the original ignition point. The fire had apparently spotted over the western control line, the one that had been put in by teams on foot the night before. We had been talking to a senior FF from another brigade a little earlier who had just walked that line and reported it safe.
Later I saw some very tall stags come down in the middle of the fireground, and it’s my guess that the gusty wind change had carried embers from one of these across the line. Paul from Coomera Valley had just taken over as IC, and was now faced with a fire apparently burning in inaccessible lantana scrub downslope from the Eagle Heights I-Zone at Magnetic Drive. TM41 and other light attacks were called in to the IP. Some of the other units were sent to reconnoitre on foot, while TM41 was sent to patrol the eastern boundary of the main burn, along the Wongawallan 4WD track, and, as we were to discover, out of radio connection with IC.
The next hour was a tad confusing. We were to meet up with two other units on the track, and although we heard them, they couldn’t hear us, neither could IC. We called in every few minutes, swapping between the mobiles and the truck radio without improvement. We never did see the other units, but eventually we were instructed to work with TM52, who were coming up the track from Welches Road. All the other units were working over to the west, where we could see a line of fire from the top to the bottom of the ridge line. We called in Code 4 just after dark, while TM52 continued to patrol the track until around midnight.

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