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From Victoria Valley fire frontline
Don Robertson is the Dundas Group communications officer – the group at the heart of the Victoria Valley complex fire with 18 brigades including Victoria Valley, Mirranatwa and Mooralla clustered around the southern Grampians.
Don is almost losing his voice after a solid week as just one of the locals helping to coordinate response in conjunction with the group officer and deputy group officers, up through the chain of command to the ICC in Horsham and out into homes all around the area.
“DGO Chips Menzel and I went out to Mooralla first thing this morning to talk to the locals,” says Don. “Having that knowledge of the conditions meant that we could put a strong case to the ICC for graders – they’re very amenable to sound proposals. That’s given us graders out there at the moment backed up by a CFA slip-on strike team.
“Group Officer Burt Astbury, the DGOs and I are concentrating on working with the ICC so they can get the best local knowledge from us. Our group has thrown a lot of resources at the fire, and today we’ve been concentrating on the western side of the Victoria Range which is to the north of Mooralla.
“For the whole 7 days there have been no mobile phones into the Victoria Valley. We learn to not rely on them and you can manage. The fireground comms have been fine; up to the ICC has been OK, and the command comms back to me have been OK.
“Today has been spent pre-planning, looking towards the next event with conditions expected to build on Friday. We’re looking at a staging area at Cavendish along with an activated Div Comm. We’ll resource-up by Friday evening but at the moment we have District 5 and 17 strike teams in there alongside DSE. All local members had been pulled out to give them some recovery time for 24 hours while the DMOs work on the vehicles.
“That being said, the Mirranatwa and Victoria Valley brigades are still monitoring the fire.
“The terrain is very difficult which means that CFA can’t get into about 70 per cent of it. We’ve had the excellent back up of about four helitaks and five or six fixed wing aircraft – quite a turnout along with their air attack supervisors.
“DSE and CFA relations are very healthy – we’re working together better than ever before, I think.
“Victoria Valley and Mirranatwa are very strong communities and were impinged upon during the most recent Grampians fires. We’ve had to work very hard to avoid property loss this time in a highly stocked area; primarily a fine wool-producing area.”
Damage so far is calculated to be two sheds destroyed, approximately 15 kilometres of internal and external fencing destroyed, approximately 60 sheep lost and 1500 hectares of grassland and pasture burnt. The fire grew 11,000 hectares over Wednesday night, 20 February and is now thought to be 25,000 hectares.
“We’re essentially flat land people in the Dundas Group and the fire behaviour has taken some getting used to,” continues Don. “It’s been very unstable and we’ve actually been getting sea breezes on the plains. The ballgame has changed.
“Currently, though, I’d say that the Victoria Valley flat land is well under control
“My message is really, support the volunteers. I’ve called hundreds of people over the last week and I find that they feel guilty if they can’t help you right away but people have lives of their own. We know that everyone will help if and when they can and the turnout has been tremendous considering we have some small brigaded. The help is appreciated whenever it comes along, but mind your own property first.”
Don Robertson is also a member of the CFA Board.