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Captain on Yaapeet fireground
With fire activity close to home since Tuesday 14 January, the days and nights are starting to blur together for Yaapeet Captain Troy Fisher.
The brigade has battled both the Paradise and Lake Albacutya fires alongside the Department of Environment and Primary Industries with magnificent back up from strike teams.
“The first warning went out on the Tuesday night [14 January],” says Troy, “and these were both lightning strike fires. The wind was gusting all over the place, chopping and changing. It already had a 500 metre front by the time we got out there – we couldn’t believe it. We’d think we had things under control but we were just chasing it and couldn’t catch up. It made a run to the east; half an hour later it made a run to the west. The first report back to Swan Hill was that the fire had already burnt about 400 hectares.
“We got strike teams in from Swan Hill and Mildura that first night before it made a run and burnt about 2000 acres in about 20 to 25 minutes. We had one really experienced member from Swan Hill say he’d never seen fire behaviour like it. It burnt the lake bed that first night which is grass, short shrubbery and red gums – that must be about 2500 hectares.
“It quietened down until the Friday although it kept spotting out onto private land and made a 30 kilometre run up to Underbool one night. Over three nights I had about nine hours sleep and everyone else was in pretty much the same boat. Friday pm we had a spotover that burnt 550 hectares very quickly and we were lucky to pull that one up.
“By that day we had heaps of strike teams with about 40 trucks at the staging area crewed by some people from the other side of Bendigo and Melbourne. This week we’ve had a strike team of ultralights. Now we’re seeing people come back on strike teams for a second and third time so they’re becoming familiar faces. The locals just can’t believe how far people have come to help out.
“Private machinery saved the day. We had 4WD tractors driven by brigade members. One had a grader board putting out spot fires and another with an offset disc used to plough paddocks turned dirt over onto the fire. We were lucky to have them – they’re not used much in farming now.
“We’ve had DEPI air support out of Rainbow and Linga and the three bombers have been a massive help slowing down one of the main flanks.
“We’ve been stretched but it’s been a massive team effort and we’ll soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Everyone on the fireground has worked incredibly well together. We were worried it was going to run into town at one point. My wife Penny was at home with our three little children so everyone was feeling the pressure.
“We’re all pretty happy with the response – we didn’t lose any major assets; no houses. Recovery is going to be massive. The worst-hit farmer has lost about 20 kilometres of fencing. We’ve lost a few very good camping spots but we were lucky to have the strike teams and private units and lucky that people rallied like they did.”
Thanks to Keith Pakenham for the portrait of Troy and to Troy for the fireground photos.