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Walhalla ST 9034 24th Jan 2013
Over my 20 years with CFA there have been moments when I have felt proud to be a volunteer.
This was one of those moments.
Even though I am still an active member of Korumburra, I have not been involved in many strike teams over the past few years. I recently contacted Group to express interest in assisting the Strike Team Leader at any future incidents. That phone call resulted in me driving the Strike Team Leader to Walhalla with ST9034 for what was meant to be a 12 hour shift.
Started out as usual, briefings, drive or bus for some, staging area, other briefing, wait a while, chat to crews then head off. Walhalla was shrouded with a blanket of low smoke cover giving the town an eerie look. We were given a tour of the town and informed of no-go zones, steep narrow roads, bridges etc. All of the tourists and most of the locals had left, apart from 22 well-prepared residents. Most had water pumps set up in the creek that trickles through town and there were buckets and mops on every verandah and foot bridge.
We received plenty of waves as we drove through the town. The next 8 hours was uneventful, more smoke and now light ash falling with still no wind. The old fire station had been opened up for us to look through, the coffee shop was open with friendly staff, the Star Hotel had a TV on with air conditioning for brief relief from the heat and we were offered rides on the tourist railway. One resident baked pikelets with jam and cream which she gave to her husband to deliver and who also entertained us with stories of Walhalla. We were all made welcome.
At approximately 7.30pm Strike Team Leader Colin Stockdale ( Stocky ) and myself had a briefing with D9 ops and we were informed that the wind change was expected to be strong and gusty and would hit around 2am. The fire front was 4 kms away and this would surely place Walhalla under ember attack.
Our shift was due to end at 10pm with no relief crew due in until 10am tomorrow! After a brief discussion Stocky gathered the crews, explained the situation and asked for a show of hands as to who was prepared to stay until the next crew arrived. There was no discussion, simply a unanimous show of hands.
At that moment I was reminded why I joined the CFA. Here we were, in a strange town, with people we didn't know and having already been away from home for over 12 hours, yet no one was going to leave!
The locals were extremely appreciative with some looking forward to a good night's sleep. Others stayed up all night and kept the coffee shop open, offered a ghost tour and the Star Hotel allowed members to use the landline to call home as there is very limited mobile phone coverage. They also cleared out rooms in the hotel to set up stretcher beds with everyone pitching in to help.
Shifts were arranged to patrol the town through the night. Fortunately the wind change never came. No-one complained as beds were packed up and we got ready to head home. it can be difficult to stay positive when you are sleep deprived, hot and there is not a lot to do.
ST9034 you should ALL be as proud of your efforts at Walhalla as I am!