A dangerous grass fire that threatened homes, an aged care facility, and Australian Defence Force land has been replicated as part of an important training exercise for emergency agencies.
CFA hosted the Incident Management Team exercise at the Wodonga Incident Control Centre, with personnel from key agencies including police, road agencies, local council representatives, and fire agencies.
CFA Regional Commander Paul King helped organise the exercise, and said the scenario was based on a fire during the 2019/20 fire season.
“The real fire started in Baranduda and burnt quite quickly across quite a large area,” he said.
“It happened in the worst of conditions, being a hot and windy evening, and we also had several other large fires burning in the Ovens Valley and the Upper Murray on top if what was already a very tough fire season.”
“For the exercise, there are different complexities to deal with. It was school holidays during the actual fire but we’re doing this in real time while there are people at school so that’s got to be taken into consideration.
“We’ve also got the added complexity of COVID so while we’ve got to work within a safe COVID environment, we’ve still got to know how to deal with the emergency situation and put the fire out.”
CFA D24 Commander Brett Myers was Incident Controller during the exercise and said this was the first time he’d done the job for a Level 3 incident.
“I was very nervous to start with, but once we started, I found myself more comfortable as I was surrounded by very capable operators which makes my job easier,” he said.
“You’ve got a lot more responsibility in this role, but you’ve got the ability to delegate, and empower your people to do their job and do it well, which I think is a good quality of good Incident Controller.”
“It’s important to do these exercises ahead of the fire season as a reminder about people’s roles.”
“I felt a bit rusty, and I’m sure everyone else felt rusty as we haven’t been able to exercise for a while, but this was really an opportunity to dust off the cobwebs and make sure we were all learning from this.
“Every agency that could be involved was at the table, and because we work closely in our day jobs, those pre-existing relationships with key people made this experience easier and helped us operate successfully.”
With seasonal outlooks predicting more grassfires than bushfires during the coming 2021/22 fire season, Regional Commander Paul King said this is the perfect exercise to prepare crews for the summer.
“The Baranduda fire we’re simulating was a grass fire so it really shows they can be really fast, really flashy, and really hot and unpredictable.
“People tend to drop their guard when we talk about grass fires rather than bushfires, but this real fire shows that’s something you can’t afford to do.