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Coongulla captain says…
Coongulla Captain Geoff Lynch has taken advantage of a relatively benign day to re-supply the two 45,000 litre concrete water tanks stationed beside bush roads as close as possible to the DSE/CFA interface.
His town remains close to the threat of the Aberfeldy fire, so the brigade has also borrowed two collar tanks from Sale brigade and placed them in DSE territory. They will be refilled first thing tomorrow morning – Saturday 9 February.
“We don’t want to be caught with our pants down,” explains Geoff. “The dams are nearly all dry and this water is there ready for us and DSE. The concrete tanks are around seven kilometres out of town but there are some private properties up that way. The collar tanks are a bit further out of town – it’s a 42 kilometre round trip to fill them up.
“We need something up there because you can’t get a 3000 litre 3.4C up there. Fortunately we have a 3.4D and that can just make it.”
Most of the 14 active and eight support members of Coongulla brigade had a rest day today. “I always keep fatigue at the front of my mind,” says Geoff. “We’re not getting in younger and our average age is mid-50s so it’s important we take any chance we can get to rest.
“But we’re old hands," says Geoff. "In 2006 the fires went for six weeks and this one could well go for at least that so we’re trying to look after ourselves.”
In fact Geoff has been on the go today since he was rudely awoken at 9.30am – a 10-hour catch-up sleep after a few very long nights. On Wednesday night the Coongulla crew did an all-night shift along Kellys Lane five kilometres north of town so DSE crews could rest. The following night Geoff was busy with a local knowledge evening briefing to strike teams.
Strike teams have been coming and going through Coongulla but it’s a one-road-in-and-one-road-out town so they don’t tend to stay overnight.
“The doors of the fire station have been open 24 hours a day,” continues Geoff who stays in touch with his family and friends on Facebook when fires are running.
“Members of the community come into the station or drop into my home for information or we’re fielding their calls. Our community has been through so many fires but smoke is filling everyone’s houses and they’re looking for updates. They walk away feeling more at ease.
“On 5 January we had a community information session and exercise and, in hindsight, that was timely. About 90 people came and we ran through scenarios: “If a fire started here, what would you do?
“When the fires came close on January 17, the town emptied out and we had about a dozen people left. We have 175 holiday houses for rent and all those people left.
“All the locals are back now after that worst day and I just tell them to go about their normal business but be mindful.
“Community support is what CFA is all about and I think we’re a unique brigade. We run a ‘Who’s here/who’s out’ register at the station and if any member of the community is evacuating they drop into the station and let us know.
“In terms of town safety, on a scale of one to 100 with 100 being most at risk, I’d rate us at about 20. Tomorrow might be a challenging day but I believe we’ve done everything we can to protect Coongulla. There have been the backburns done with DSE and the dozer trails.
“We’re good survivors. We seem to know how to duck and dive here.”