News & Media

Moyston fire 2015 - case study

By: Duncan Russell

Category: Operational Information

  4.42 PM 16 March, 2015

Location: General

Views: 2492

The ‘Learning from incidents’ section of Brigade magazine includes case studies of major incidents researched by Fire & Emergency Management. Here, the team analyses the 2015 Moysten fire.

A case study is an explanatory story based on a real-life incident that looks at what happened and why it happened. The aim is for people to learn from the case study so they improve their decision making in time-critical situations.

If you have any observations or initiatives you would like to submit from your own experiences in emergency management, visit the Observation Sharing Centre:

Moyston fire 2015

Incident overview

Friday 2 January 2015 was a Total Fire Ban day and incident management teams were in place, air and ground observers were on standby in the field. Early that morning the rostered duty officer (RDO) activated a hot day response and four

fixed-wing water bombers were on standby at Stawell airport. The weather was 35°C, relative humidity of 9 per cent, and there was a 28km/h northerly wind gusting to 50km/h.

At 11.52am the first call came in over the radio of smoke sighting in the Moyston area. The Big Hill Stawell fire tower confirmed smoke showing and building rapidly, and a request was made to the State Air Desk for all four water-bombing aircraft to respond. A few minutes later, Moyston Captain called “make tankers 10”, which was followed up eight minutes later by the Ararat Group Officer, now known as Better Route Rd Control, asking for 20 tankers and an Emergency Warning to be sent out for the Moyston township and surrounding area. The fast-moving grassfire was about to impact the township.

Soon after Moyston Tanker 2 was at the scene, the fire had already travelled over 3km, which made initial size up difficult. The topography and fuel loads made the suppression challenging. Within the first hour, five strike teams had responded and a further nine requested from outside the district. A strike team was requested to cover Westmere Group, but it was deployed direct to the fire at the request of the fireground.

The forward rate of spread was stopped at 5pm, by which time the fire had travelled 21km in five hours and reached a size of 4,454 hectares with a 64-kilometre perimeter. The next day, a strong south-westerly wind impacted the fireground.

As a result of the great work by crews, no breakaways occurred.

Debrief details

On 21 January, CFA District 16 Operations Manager Chris Eagle organised the Moyston Fire debrief, which was facilitated by Deputy Chief Officer John Haynes. John discussed the relationship with Emergency Management Victoria and the concept of a ‘no-blame’ culture.

Emergency Management Victoria is currently implementing a lessons management project which will include governance, processes, roles and an IT system to capture, analyse and implement lessons in Victorian emergency services organisations.

‘Just/fair’ culture, also known as ‘no-blame’, is where organisations accept that people may make mistakes, but those who participate in reckless behaviour should be held accountable. Debrief participants identified good practice and areas for improvement, including what members would do differently next time.

What worked well?

Aircraft Eleven aircraft including two large air tankers (LATs) substantially helped to minimise the losses from the fire. Although the aircraft didn’t extinguish the fire, the initial drops of the LATs north of Moyston prevented the fire from entering the township.

Food Being well fed helps to reduce fatigue on the fireground. Food services were set up early and close to the staging area so it was quick and easy to access. There were plenty of people serving food and they were well resourced. The Rapid Relief Team and Moyston Auxiliary did a great job. Opportunities for improvement include serving food that caters to a wider range of diets and having food available during mopping up when the fire was out.

Private Firefighting equipment This is used extensively around Moyston because of the number of farming communities. It can be a recipe for disaster because of the possible lack of communication to the units. But at the Moyston fire everyone had a lot of situational awareness and used common sense, with the majority of the private firefighting equipment being driven by well-practised brigade members.

Division Command The role of Division Command was established through local initiative and was a team effort. It was originally located in vehicles then moved to a local fire station. It was run by five qualified people who were very busy, which reinforces the need for a Division Command. The district and group were well prepared and used lessons learned by people who went to Gisborne the week before.

Public Information The public information and warnings unit worked extremely well in providing timely warnings to the community. EMV carried out an evaluation on the warnings and information provided to the community, focusing on specific issues identified during the incident or through standard monitoring processes. It’s important to note that the evaluation excluded contact with the incident control centre, public information officer or warnings officer, so situational issues are not considered.

Overall, there were a number of other good practices identified, such as timely warnings, access to water tankers, the use of graders, ground observers getting timely information to the ICC and good leadership on the fireground.

What could we improve?

Fatigue The first responders were mainly retirees and they worked for over 12 hours before relief arrived. There were also some issues with traffic management points which meant some relief crews were delayed. Heat stress was a critical issue on the fireground. It’s important that health and fitness are taken into consideration when preparing for hot days and on the fireground to ensure the safety of all members. Hydration and fatigue management are critical.

First-aid There were many incidents that required first-aid, including incorrect footwear causing sprained ankles, heat-related problems and chest pains. Crews are given first-aid training, first-aid kits and, in some cases, a defibrillator. Until Ambulance Victoria is on the fireground, skilled crews should attend to first-aid. Incidents must be correctly reported (which wasn’t always the case) and the incident controller must be made aware of them.

Communications There were a number of issues regarding communication, particularly between the different control locations and the ICC. The main issue with communication was the ICC being co-located at a DELWP work centre where the phone lines and voicemail defaulted to the normal business lines at the work stations when not answered. This created a lot of uncertainty about whether messages were getting through to the right people.

Stepping up brigades This fire required a lot of brigade support, with around 39 District 16 brigades committed to the initial firefight. This meant some townships had minimal resources for local incidents. The need to step up brigades created confusion and it was identified there needs to be clarity about the procedure. Some other areas for improvement were the importance of local knowledge, using roles instead of individual names, realistic timeframes when planning for evacuation and the importance of fuel reduction and preparedness activities.

What would you do next time?

Local facilities The key issue identified in the debrief was the arrangement to use Horsham ICC instead of the local Ararat ICC. This was due to the limited capacity to fill IMT roles across the region and meeting the arrangements in the Joint Standard OperatingProcedures 2.03 Incident Management Team –Readiness Arrangements for Bushfire. Although Ararat ICC didn’t have the resources for a Level 3 IMT at that time, it should still be used to assist the fireground and create workarounds to get the ball rolling in the initial few hours, then move the Horsham IMT to Ararat ICC.

Resourcing Resourcing is a major issue for Ararat ICC. Training for Level 3 IMT roles is an ongoing activity that takes significant time and effort. The time of year also impacted on ICC staffing in the region and the region didn’t have any additional people. It was agreed that the development of IMT capability will be a future priority for all agencies.

Connectivity of information In the short term, the Ararat area is going to concentrate on getting to know key players in the Horsham and Ballarat area. In addition, the people who work in the ICCs are going to get to know the local people to avoid some of the communication issues experienced during this incident. Personal acquaintance, along with mobile phone numbers, would go some way towards mitigating these issues. In addition to the improvements discussed above, there was also discussion about identifying approved plant operators and machinery available in the area, and the regular real-time practice of pre-plans and exercise scenarios by agencies to uncover communication problems, allowing for early resolution, and reduce the problems encountered during incidents.


The impact of the Moyston fire was dramatically reduced as a result of the interoperability, ingenuity, initiative and quick thinking of those involved. The debrief was beneficial, with discussions highlighting areas that worked really well and exploring areas that still need some work.

Discussion questions:

Are there any lessons that have been identified from this incident that you have experienced in your own patch?

How can you apply these lessons to your emergency management role?

Is there any action you can take to continue to improve incident management operations in your own patch?

Last Updated: 07 April 2016