News & Media

Crews buzzing from Lancefield house saves

By: Leith Hillard

Category: Incidents - Bushfire

  12.34 PM 9 October, 2015

Location: General

Views: 2376

Weather conditions have helped firefighters working through Thursday night/Friday morning on the Lancefield fire which is now approximately 3000 hectares.

While winds have decreased they are coming around to the north, meaning they will be warmer and drier.

Some 123 personnel are working on the fire today, along with 22 trucks, 11 helicopters and several bulldozers and excavators.

On Tuesday, that number included the members of Strike Team 1402 with Matthew Pollard the crew leader of Epping tanker and Epping 1st lieutenant Rohan Stevens the strike team leader. They were working with ST1210 with a DELWP strike team also working in their zone

The crews arrived at 3pm and were immediately tasked with asset protection in Musk Gully Road.

“Rohan led the assessment of whether the first house was defendable,” says Matt, “and it was decided it was safe enough for us to make a stand.

“The fire was about 100 to 200 metres away from us and it looked like a ground fire although it was actually crowning in the trees – we couldn’t see that at first.

“Some dogs were caged at the rear and we let them out. They were running around as happy as anything but we just opened a door and they went straight into the laundry – easy.

“We had to move some gas cylinders – LPG and barbecue – and get some lines out at the rear of the house where the fire was approaching. Epping faced the south side and Wollert faced the west. We began to feel the heat and called for further assistance but Kalkallo couldn’t get in. Dense bushland was ringing the house and they couldn’t get through.

“The fire threw itself at us and spread around the weatherboard house. It cut off our retreat. Crews went into passive water-conservation mode until Kalkallo managed to get through and accessed the water tank on the property. We set up a point from where we could defend the house but knew we’d already lost one shed. We could hear pops which we found out later were the owner’s beer kegs! There was nothing we could do – it wasn’t safe for us.

“The heat was ridiculously intense and I was constantly feeling embers burning the back of my neck – at first I thought I was being stung.

“From there we tried to save the horse float but unfortunately we weren’t successful. We’d already seen the horse on the property and heard its cries of distress down near the strike team car. Rohan and a Lancefield lieutenant reached it and it seemed relieved to be around humans. They put it on a neighbouring property where there was another horse.

“After losing the horse float, we felt like we needed a win. We busted into a shed and saw the owners two Harleys and said, ‘Well, we’re not losing them!’ We dragged one out and put it on the verandah but the second one was strapped in and on a hoist. We just managed to drag it out and get it up to the verandah as the fire came through. We literally just made it.

“We felt like we won – saving the Harleys – and we knew it was going to be a major win for the homeowner.

“It was time to take a breather and look to the next house but also to celebrate a bit. There was a big buzz between all the crews. We’d had some pretty scary moments but we were reassuring each other, sometimes distracting people away from their fears and re-tasking them.

“They all worked their butts off and did a fantastic job.

“There were a couple more houses on that road that needed attention and that’s where we got hit hard with the crowning fire jumping the road on us at height.”

A second house in the street was saved by Wildwood and Bulla brigades. Wildwood Tanker also later defended a house at the end of the road in a significant ember attack, supported by a DELWP bulldozer. 

ST1402 headed home at midnight, exhausted but also elated. Their buzz was heightened when social media picked up photos posted by friends of the owner of the first saved house.

“Apparently the owner was ecstatic when he returned home,” continues Matt. “Social media was ridiculous and the buzz was immense by the time the whole brigade met for training on Wednesday night and we were sharing the story around. Everyone was high and that’s just been accentuated over the next few days.”

Kyneton Group Officer John Pearce is currently serving as the deputy incident controller and feels enormous pride in the work done by local crews and those from further afield.

“Brigades and strike teams have been doing a magnificent job with asset protection,” he says. “They’ve responded without question, worked diligently and saved countless houses.

“There’s still active fire today and the emphasis is on building containment lines – they’re about two-thirds of the way around the perimeter now. The granite country around Pastoria remains very challenging – it’s very hard for the graders and dozers to access because of the boulder-strewn landscape.

“The local Kyneton Group is now resting. The members of Benloch are also resting although we understand the members have offered to feed and water the animals of anyone who can’t get back into their properties in the fire area.

“We’re possibly expecting rain on Sunday but in the meantime brigades are ready to respond to any outbreaks.”

Many thanks to Matt Pollard for photos.

Last Updated: 09 October 2015