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Biggest fire yet for Paul
CFA members in the La Trobe Valley were busy preparing for floods when the call came at 2am for a large, deliberately-lit fire at the disused timber mill in Morwell, which was threatening the warehouse beside it.
Operations Officer and Incident Controller Paul Fixter said the mill and adjoining warehouse had recently been bought by local gardening supply company Pinegro, and millions of dollars worth of stock was being stored in the warehouse.
“The building was well alight when we arrived − flames were going absolutely everywhere. A good 70 metres was well alight on the western end, all the way to the roof,” said Paul.
“There was a lot of disused machinery inside as well as sawdust and coal dust from the power stations, which enhanced the fire activity. Flames were licking the large building next door which contained all the stock.”
There were 55 CFA members at the scene from Churchill, Hazelwood North, Morwell, Newborough, Traralgon, Traralgon West and Yallourn North plus Victoria Police.
At one stage there were five pumpers, five tankers, three support vehicles and the 42-metre ladder platform from Traralgon at the scene.
It was the largest single structure fire Paul had dealt with as an incident controller and, while the job went well, they had to deal with a number of big challenges.
“It was just one of those hard incidents. Because of the recent rainfall there was a foot of mud around the structure. Walking through mud for that many hours takes it out of everyone, and our crews had already been active during the floods – which made the workload pretty high for the night. It was a long night shift!
“Water supply was also a big issue. The hydrants were a fair way from the incident and we had a three-truck relay getting water to the job. We had to relay through one pumper on to another pumper and keep boosting the pressure as we went to get a useable supply of water at the actual fire.
“Dealing with a large structure fire like that, I have to make sure I don’t exceed my span of control – I broke the incident into four sectors as well as a water sector. Each side had its own sector commander and I also had a dedicated water sector commander to look after our water supply.
“We saved the adjoining warehouse first as it contained millions of dollars worth of stock, and then stopped the fire throughout the 300-metre long building. The incident was under control within around 2.5 hours.
“The Traralgon ladder platform water monitor did a good job and we had 65mm hose lines stopping the fire. In the whole incident we used 48 hoses.
“It was a job really well done by all crews under extremely wet and muddy conditions. While it was a long night, it ran well, everyone got fed and was happy.
“We also had a new career firefighter on that night from Morwell – Peter Martin – who had only been in for a month or two. It was an eye opener for him and he went really well.”
Pinegro was very grateful to the fireys for saving the adjoining warehouse and all the stock. Although part of the disused mill needs rebuilding, the rest is still useable.