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Harrietville captain says…
Do you imagine the captain of Harrietville Fire Brigade would be tired? Not a bit! Gary Weston launches into a conversation with great energy and enthusiasm, proud of the enormous amount of work done by his crew.
“As we stand today, the town of Harrietville is protected,” he says. “We’ve never allowed fire to come into town. You could say it’s safe as houses. The fire is on the southeast side of town and heading away. There’s no fuel to burn on that side
“But that being said, it’s only Mother Nature that’s going to put out this fire and there’s no rain in the foreseeable future. We’re all in it for the long haul. The wind from the south is our biggest worry.
“It still has potential, hence the backburn last night. We were out with DSE for about six hours doing the backburn and protecting the Hotham Road. Thanks to them for their efforts and to all our neighbouring brigades. They all do a fantastic job.
“Strike teams have been up to Hotham but we’ve had a taskforce working with us which includes slip-ons. They’ve helped us chase the fire around the edge of town to the property boundaries and been highly successful.
“We’ve done thousands of man hours in the last two weeks since that lightning strike near Smoko. Most fires in our patch are started by lightning – in 2003 we had 29 lightning strikes but this fire was started by just the one.
“We’ve had five choppers working here every day for two weeks and I’m living under the flightpath. They’re noisy but necessary.
“The community meetings have been interesting. There was a bit of panic at the first one. The fire can look horrifying to the newbies in town but I’m used to it. The old timers slept well at night.
“We put that message out to the community that, if they didn’t have a fire plan, they should be out of town by 6pm and it got across and was acted on. That was good. The community lost a lot of income of course with the caravan park empty in the summer holidays but that’s just the way it has to be and people who’ve lived here for a while know that. “
The Harrietville Fire Station will become the staging area from today onwards. The station opened a month before the 2003 fires – Gary calls it “a baptism of fire” for the building complete with meeting and radio rooms.
Gary has been captain for 12 years. The 30 active members have seen big fires close to home in 2003 and 2006/07. On Black Saturday they worked around Mudgegonga, protected Havilah, helped stop the fire getting to Bright and surrounded the Beechworth fire.
Gary has lived in Harrietville for 30-odd years and wouldn’t live anywhere else. He’s got used to balancing the risk with the beauty and peace and quiet.
With a going fire on his doorstep, he’s heading back to work tomorrow for the first time in two weeks. And what does he do?
“I’m the Assistant Fire Prevention Officer for the Alpine Shire!”