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Nightshift at Coalville
The Coalville (Rosatos Rd) fire started early on a warm Saturday afternoon (23rd Feb) in a small valley east of Thorpdale.
The fire appears to have started in grassland and was burning along the valley and up through scrub and timber towards properties along McDonalds Track. The houses were built for the view and access to the back of the properties was limited.
DGO Mark King made the call enroute to “make tankers 5 as there is a lot of smoke showing” and the initial trucks accessed the fire off McDonalds Track near Reid Rd. Shortly after arriving on scene aircraft were called for and make pumpers 2 for asset protection along McDonalds Track followed by make tankers 10.
It soon became apparent that the fire was burning uphill through thick timber with limited access from McDonalds track and that the tankers couldn’t get down to the fire, slip ons and ultra lights were called to work along the valley and up the slopes.
Andrew Balfour from Willowgrove looked after the Coalville Sector accessing the head of the fire in the valley through Crowes Rd and the dairy, by this time the helitaks including Elvis (or his cousin) were at work taking the sting out of the head of the fire and letting the ground crews get in close. Danny Mynard was looking after the McDonald Track Sector and a dozer was at work on containment lines around the back of the houses in McDonalds Track giving the smaller units somewhere to work off.
After about 4 hours and a lot of hard work by the fire crews the fire was considered under control with an estimated area of 70 ha burnt out and a lot of work to be done blacking out along the slopes and amongst the trees.
Monday night shift crew started to gather at the Thorpdale Recreation Reserve which was now the staging area for the Coalville fire, the Red Cross were organising meals, a fuel tanker had been set up for the trucks and a local Staging Area team had things pretty well sorted out. Don Allan was IC for night shift and was checking out Port Albert’s FOV while they printed off the Shift Plan for the night shift.
The day shift were glad to finish as they had a couple of runs of fire uphill through unburnt ground which had threatened to get over the containment lines and in to the plantations over McDonalds Track, they had managed to keep the fire within the containment lines but had a busy day.
We had 8 slipons/ultra light tankers to do the heavy work on the tracks and couple of larger tankers to carry water and for asset protection if we needed it, amongst the mix was Allambee’s 1.4 which would prove it’s worth later on. This light tanker could climb the hills and get to most places the smaller vehicles could get into but carried more water and had a slightly bigger pump so it could reach the hotspots up in the taller trees.
After a quick briefing the crews moved out onto the fireground arriving just on dark and went to work on a few obvious hotspots straight away, the dozer had tracked all of the fire and cut a couple of trails down to the valley floor so at least the slips ons had access from top to bottom.
Arriving after dark the crews were taking a while to get familiar with the fireground and the limited access so the call would be to enter alongside Number 840 or come down to the corrals at number 974 and I’ll meet you to take you down.
The TIC crew in Warragul’s FCV were helping to identify the hotspots and either marking them with tape or directing the nearest crew to where they were.
The crews were working their way down the slopes blacking out and tidying up the control lines until a light sprinkle of rain at around 12.30 was a signal for a break, we gathered at Trafalgar Tanker which had been the fill point and setup the brew point for a meal break.
After the shower had passed we checked the tracks and got back to work, whenever a light breeze passed through the valley it helped the crews to find the now dwindling number of hotspots, a couple of bigger trees were marked for dayshift deemed as being too dangerous to work on at night.
The night wore on and the humidity kept rising and the work slowly dried up, by the time the sun was trying to rise through the fog the crews were moving back to the staging area for breakfast and a changeover.
The dayshift looked like being a bit quieter and with luck the threatening rain would arrive and they wouldn’t need another nightshift.