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Leaders talk Creightons Creek fire
By the time the pager message came in for this incident mid-afternoon on Tuesday 16 December, Group Officer Graeme Seach of Euroa Group was already worried.
“There had been so many lightning strikes the day before and we had spent that day chasing one fire after another,” said Graeme. “On Tuesday we sent a page asking crews to check on all fires from the day before which they did, but this one was a sleeper. It started in rough hilly terrain about 400 metres from a pine plantation where it crowned.
“It was rocky so we couldn’t follow it right from the start – trucks had to go around.
“I was talking to a Longwood lieutenant on the way there and we called for tankers-15. By the time we got there it was spotting a few hundred metres ahead and we called for further strike teams and air support and an Emergency Warning.
“I got out to put my overalls on and the wind almost blew me over. It was heading in a northeast direction and swung around to the southwest soon afterwards which made it a bigger fire front from the word go.
“Maurie, Tom Brodie and I were Ardroy Control in the Longwood FCV and that wind change put us at the back of the fire.
“The smoke was so bad that even the aircraft couldn’t see the fire. We lost four houses but we saved many others. We couldn’t put trucks in to some of them. You don’t risk lives to save houses.
“We stopped the front of the fire just before dark on that first day.”
While Graeme moved to the local command facility (LCF) next day and stayed there for much of the next few weeks, Creightons Creek Captain John Chiswell moved from the back of the Creightons Creek truck into a command role. This is the largest fire in his patch since he became captain two years ago.
“We were just chasing it,” said John. “We never got into a position when we thought we could pull it up. The terrain made it really difficult to get an overview. When it travelled over a hill or dropped into a gully, you’d have to guesstimate what it was doing.
“Once it dropped into the Creightons Creek valley we got into asset protection for farmhouses, sheep, cattle, horse studs and hobby farms. Each truck had to make its own executive decision
“It took off on us and three weeks merged into one really long day.”
Unfortunately one breakaway was called in at 12:30pm on Christmas Day, causing maximum destruction to lunch and dinner plans with a large number of trucks called.
“Euroa Group and the LCF gave us great assistance that day,” continued John. “We appreciate all the brigades who assisted, especially our neighbours Longwood, Terip Terip, Upton Hill, Gooram and Ruffy.
“Our community members manned the hall and cooked and we ate there. It was psychologically immensely important. The community felt they were putting in and we could sit down for a cup of tea and share their stories. It helped ease the pressure but there’s still half of our brigade area that’s not burnt out and half of summer left.”
For Ruffy Captain John Furlanetto, the pressure started with the preceding Tarcombe lightning strike fire.
“There was a bit on,” said John F in a classic understatement.
“We’d been at fires Monday arvo and night then early Tuesday morning. We left the Tarcombe fire for Longwood East when we saw a fair plume of smoke. The ignition point was only three kilometres from the Ruffy brigade boundary.
“The standout piece of work for me was probably the pre-planning that went into the Saturday wind change and we held the lines.
“It’s amazing how all your training gels in and how the community rallies, not to mention all the time our members gave willingly. It was a terrific effort. Our two trucks didn’t miss a shift in about two and a half weeks until Region told us to have a spell.
“Since then the rains have come in really gentle and done more good than harm. We couldn’t have asked for better.”
The previous major fire through the area was in 1990 when a CFA member was tragically killed at Strathbogie. Before that was the devastating Longwood fire of 1965.
Retired Group Officer Max Cox has just posted his memories from that latter fire – read here.