Housewife's take on Grampians fire
Lexia Irving, a CFA volunteer with the Edenhope brigade in District 17, shares her account of being a member of a CFA Strike Team in the Grampians Fires 2013.
This is the story of my blooding on my first Strike Team. And hopefully not my last!
Our area was in the Cherrypool Sector, Red Rock Road area. Staging was held at the lovely Mooralla Golf Course. Thankfully we did not have to be bussed to the Dunkeld staging area as it is such a long bus trip, although on the Thursday evening our staging area was at the Glenisla homestead. I did feel for the owners’ agapanthus that lined the driveway – I think a few may have been lost to the constant traffic of the bus and numerous tankers, but I am sure they are gracious about it.
Knowing I was off to this area beforehand, and the Red Rock Rd area is on the top corner of the CFA map book, I photocopied the four pages that it seemed to cover, and taped together as one map – if there is anything I hate, it is a fire in the corner of a map page – very inconsiderate. So my trusty little map accompanied me through my adventures.
We were the last CFA strike team to be needed at the Grampians fire of February 2013, as it is blacked out to the containment lines now. The guys did some back-burning Sunday night & blacked out, so all is well up in our sector, anyway. We did three nights on Red Rock Road, so I know every pothole, every dangerous tree, every corner, and so on! And I certainly know from a vivid, painful and shocking experience, that on the Andersons Road, west of the Quickfill, there are two massive, almost meteorite type craters full of that weird, smothering dust stuff that seems to line every road and track in that neck of the woods, although I am sure any track that had about a thousand tyre tracks traversing it every day is sure to turn into a right mess!
It was a great experience and I will go to another one. You sure get tired, and 6.00am takes a while to come, but anyway, you meet some lovely people from all over the Wimmera. The ones who went from our area those two days were; Peter Irving (my brother in law,) who was the Strike Team leader (a strike team comprises 5 tankers plus the Forward Control Vehicle, a CFA ute with radios galore in it), Andrew Rainsford (Apsley), Kym Sambell and his son in law Travis Langford (Benayeo), Shane Cryer and Dean Brook (Edenhope). The others were from all over the place in the Wimmera, so my geography of the Wimmera has now expanded in leaps and bounds.
The CFA have provided an incredible amount of assistance to the fire-fight alongside DSE and Parks Victoria crews. CFA crews patrolled our sector right through the night. There were strike teams from everywhere. I saw some from down near Lorne roll in and some from Mornington Pen area; ___ good blokes & girls. At the start there could have been more than that, with crews just coming in from everywhere. It would have been mayhem. A lot of logistics go into it, but it is still mayhem. It’s so hard to get everything up & going under dire circumstances and tough conditions. Food to the crews is always hit and miss, with fire fighters getting late meals and on the go.
It was an impressive sight to see a couple of CFA strike teams roll across a paddock to the fire, all in a line. These marvellous tankers work 24/7, with crew changes every 12 hours, and they work all that time in the dust and smoke. They go to the garage after they have finished one of these campaigns and get all fixed up, but they are tough bits of gear, built well.
I was on the Tarranyurk tanker on the Thursday night, (AKA Telangatuk, if you are having a Senior moment on the radio!) and firstly we went through French’s paddocks from the Henty Highway, where a formation of about ten tankers held a paddock from ember attack when the fire came out of the Grampians National Park on Red Rock Road onto the farmland. So we raced around stopping those. When this was successfully done, we were deployed to other tasks. Two of us unlucky tankers, Dimboola being the other one, got the Grader Duty, which is as boring as all hell – three graders widening the tracks/roads up there into the Victoria Valley Airstrip from the Henty Highway and also widening the Red Rock Track. A working grader goes 7 km/h, so consequently, we were trundling at 7 km/h for the rest of the night. Our mission was to protect the graders in case they came under attack, but there was no direct threat. You sure got time to look at the flaming hills, and if you were a botanist, you could study the plant varieties as they were not yet burnt, but however, in the end, after many, many long hours, daylight came upon us over the smoking, burning hills, and our shift ended.
So we came home Friday morning, slept, and then went back Saturday and Sunday night. After ascertaining that I was not available for Grader Duty, I was to be a “Penciller”. Such a dreary title I think, with no oomph to it. I think it should be retitled as “Scribe,” however a Penciller I was to be, my fate was determined.
Our job Saturday and Sunday was to basically help the DSE and Parks to “...aggressively control any spot fires....”, so this our tankers did with exuberance. The guys and girls spent the day pulling out long hoses and walking in diligently treating every log and stump with great attention and foam. If a fire rekindled from their efforts, I would be most surprised. Fires embering out of the top of trees were of great concern, so much time was spent on these characters.
I must say, the DSE Sector Commanders put in a mighty big effort – they would have been tired, stressed, weary and brain fatigued from a week of constant action, but they went to great pains to fill us in at our briefings to let us know what the history and situation was. I think they really do appreciate the CFA’s job that we do. We have a fairly big volunteer bank to draw from and we are a very responsible bunch, to be sure.
We were put up in a motel after working Saturday night to sleep and shower, ready for Sunday night, because they won’t let you drive an hour home after working a 12 hour shift plus travelling to the staging area where crew changes take place. It had been a big day, and we all worked out that everyone only slept for four hours during the day. No one slept more – an odd observation.
Dozers build rough tracks through scrub. You can’t get enough dozers in these situations even though there could be ten working. Man, they are a mighty sight to behold – those dozer drivers are brave. Even though they have safety all around them, it’s still ___ dangerous. I would be a nervy dozer driver! But thank goodness they do it. You would never get a fire out without the containment lines they build.
I must go and have a look in the daylight one day, after those potholes calm down a bit, and the fires of course. It always felt weird when you got back onto the bitumen after 12 hours on the tracks, as though it was some sort of modern super highway built in Heaven.
So, all in all, I feel stuffed and I wasn’t even working the hoses like the guys, but a good feeling and an interesting time for a housewife!