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Southern Mallee Group Officer Afford talks risk
Group Officer Doug Afford spoke to Brigade magazine in late October from the top of a hill looking across the undulating cropping country and “a heck of a lot of growth” in his group area.
“We’re 100 kilometres north to south and about 70 kilometres east to west,” he said, “and our four deputy group officers are spread geographically.”
Group members often start their fire season in October with harvesting beginning in the final week of that month but “nothing doing as yet,” said Doug.
“With growth like this, people will take a bit more care with harvesting. Often our mornings are fine and farmers might call it a day at noon then come back later. It’s common sense that prevails and the voluntary code of harvesting has been well received here.
“Most of our members are farmers and they’re turned out during the day in that they’re out in the paddocks and looking about themselves. If they see smoke they check pagers, contact neighbours via UHF and then deploy if needed.
“Because of intense cropping there are very few fallow paddocks. Once the legume crops are harvested, it leaves reasonably bare paddocks which will slow a fire down and stop it.”
The group often finds itself out of synch with the statewide imposition of Total Fire Bans.
“We often have a bad day the day before,” said Doug.
Risk in the Southern Mallee Group often comes from lightning strikes in the Wyperfeld National Park which borders the Yaapeet and Patchewollock brigade areas, turning into fast-moving grassfires.
For the fifth year, the water bombing helicopter and its accompanying Bird Dog, the air attack supervisor’s aircraft, will be stationed at Sea Lake, right at the heart of Mallee grassfire risk.
“Last year they picked up water out of Lake Lascelles [at Hopetoun],” said Doug, “and this year there are firefighting water tanks based at the Hopetoun aerodrome. We also get the benefit of the fixed wings flying out of the Linga airbase.
“The aircraft stop the spread of fire and support us in the sandy scrub where our trucks don’t go.”
All vehicles in the group are four wheel drives with Patchewollock and Hopetoun West trucks on super singles.