by John Robertson
This was a continuous deployment by the Brigade of a medium attack truck in support of Birnam RFB at a wildfire covering about 70 hectares in Mundoolun with several individual houses in the line of fire. See map.
It began at 0800 on Monday 28th when Roger (then TM3), Rory and Robbo left in 52 for Birnam and continued through the late hours of Monday and into Tuesday morning when John (TM1), Neville and Don in 51 relieved 52. On the way 51 also dealt with a page to yet another Knoll NP re-ignition while Barry and Julian stood in ready reserve at the Station. On Tuesday morning 51 was replaced by 52 with Karen (TM4), Mal P and Peter Q and on Tuesday afternoon TM51 with Roger, Barry and Robbo relieved 52. TM51 got back to the Station in the very early hours of Wednesday when the fire had been declared fully under control. The driving time from our Station to Birnam is under half an hour which helped our deployment.
This was a major incident which was very demanding on all present whatever their roles. There were some pretty warm experiences. During Monday there were many sorties by Helitaks. TM52’s crew was close enough to some of the drops to get lightly sprinkled with water. Being part of this operation was impressive with a sub 5-minute turnaround for each Helitak (one with a 1,000 litre load and one with 3,000 litres) and an almost wartime ambience as a siren screamed prior to a drop hitting the fire. By 1600 the Helitaks were low on fuel and had to leave. Then things looked different; within an hour fires were again burning vigorously where the Helitaks had ‘extinguished’ them.
The other side of the equation was the difficulty for firefighters in getting access to the fire. The map, which is based on satellite imaging taken in 2004, shows a useful network of fire trails. However, these had been neglected and had become overgrown – discussion with local residents and inspection on the ground confirmed this. TM52’s crew worked really hard with backpack, rakehoe and beater hundreds of metres from the truck. It was interesting to see that fire extinguished by those means tended to stay ‘out’ in contrast to that attacked from the air. It was evident that clearing the trails would be crucial in giving truck access and thus bringing the fire under control.
When we stopped for a bite to eat, Peta Miller kindly gave 52’s crew QFRS caps as thanks for good work. Much appreciated!
Late on Monday evening 52 was tasked to recce two houses where a ‘protective’ backburn had been done. Something had gone amiss; at the second house fire was burning fiercely in dry mulch surrounding the swimming pool and abutting the veranda of the dwelling. The house was unoccupied except for two fine dogs – one confined in the swimming pool area. Because of the overgrown fire trail Roger and Robbo could not get 52 to the scene in time and so used a bucket beside the swimming pool to provide water and put out the fire. Old-fashioned – but it saved the house and the dogs from burning.
In the dark and in the early hours of Tuesday, TM51 also saved a house; this time by John and Don backburning over 200 metres from the truck which meant that Neville had to deploy all the layflats plus the rubber hose to reach the action. From first light on Tuesday Karen, Mal P and Peter Q in 52 likewise put in a hard day’s work on fire control.
The big difference on Tuesday was that bulldozers replaced helicopters. This gave good access for trucks and the wide tracks made first rate fire breaks/control lines. The trails enabled a logical program of backburning so when 51 with Roger, Barry and Robbo arrived our task was the conventional one of patrolling the control lines along the tracks and extinguishing all fire within 30 metres of the track. There was a bit of chainsawing and Roger and Barry made a remarkable job of putting out a big ‘candle’ which was throwing sparks 50 metres into the air which, with the wind behind it, could have caused a spot-over had it been allowed to continue.
Towards midnight Dave Limberg of Rocky Point took over as I/C. Among other things there was a massive candle to be tackled. Dave’s sage advice was to leave it alone to burn itself down. In the calm conditions, this it duly did; a good example of safe working and economy of effort. Dave released TM52 and the other attendant trucks and we were back at the Station at 0020 on Wednesday. All round another useful contribution by the Brigade.