News & Media

Taking on the Gisborne fire

By: Duncan Russell

Category: Incidents - Bushfire

  8.21 AM 19 March, 2014


Location: District 2 News

Views: 2820

“Water! We’re out of water,” yells crew leader Anne Perkins on the Newstead brigade tanker's two-way radio. 

Christopher Simmins gives his account of the Gisborne fire which started on 9 February.

Messages from our other strike team trucks quickly follow. Guildford, Campbells Creek and Fryerstown tankers are nearly empty as the menacing fire continues to harass our control lines. Earlier, a strong south-westerly front has pushed the ragged fire front over the Lancefield Kilmore road.

A new urgency unfolds. An impressive deep red glow now spreads across the horizon and into the distance.

It's 2.10am on Monday 10 February and I’m working in the Newstead Group field command vehicle (FCV) as penciller , along with driver Chris Athey from Fryerstown and Strike Team Leader Shane Scoble from Guildford.

Our heavy CFA 4x4 trucks, FCV and all volunteer firefighters are known as Strike Team 0290 from Newstead Group and we’re just one of many of the strike teams across the state which has flocked to this region to help out communities under threat.

Our unfamiliar local knowledge, the difficult undulating terrain and disorientating night conditions are testing our tiredness and senses. However, it's our combined experience of the fire behaviour and how quickly it can all change that keeps us on our toes.

Just as an army relies on ammunition, firefighters rely on water. When ammunition runs out, a foot soldier resorts to a bayonet. Firefighters resort to a rake hoe. This firefight is far too big for rake hoes and water is soon found for the trucks. I curse the fact that fire bombers can't work at night.

The night chill goes as quickly as the day warms and the wind picks up again. The fire in the distance continues to run, licking, tasting and consuming anything that dares block its drunken, reckless journey.

The sun rises over vast blackened farmlands. We stare back from the top of the valley at what our frantic firefight achieved throughout the night. Properties and stock saved; only fences and fodder lost. Blocks of unburnt paddock remain untouched in among a big, black jigsaw puzzle.

Our changeover crews are on the way and will be arriving soon.

7.50am and a fire call comes in just as we prepare to depart for our handover. Once again, we find our Strike Team working hard to pull up another running grassfire sweeping up a valley near farm houses. The elderly Italian farmer, his son and daughter-in-law are black with soot and look exhausted .The son said they had been protecting the house from fire all yesterday and throughout the night, but it became too much for them as emotional and physical fatigue set in.

Tears well up in his eyes as he shakes our hands and says, “Thank you.”

Photo: Christopher Simmins

Last Updated: 24 March 2014