Captain speaks from Moyston fireground

There’s still plenty of action on the Moyston fireground.

A crew of slip-ons worked over Sunday night and six trucks and a command vehicle patrolled yesterday, Monday, while a Bird Dog located hot spots from the air.

“It’s a 64-kilometre perimeter,” says Moyston captain and sheep farmer Bill Taylor, “and it’s safe. We’re opening minor roads and that should be nearly completed today.

“A fodder drive has already started and one of our firefighters is the liaison officer. There are two drop-off points and some feed has been distributed already to stock on burnt ground. Most of them have been fed and watered twice since the fire came through.

“We’re getting calls coming in from all over the state offering agistment and fodder. Two farmers have shifted their stock out of the area although you don’t want them to go too far from home.

“We think about 3000-plus sheep have been lost in the area. We lost one house in town where there are about 50 houses, and one in an outlying area. One lady lost three or four cats but we lost no horses or cattle. One sheep dog has a singed leg and is limping a bit.

“The fire started around the town in a stiff northerly. I got the pager message and went straight to the fire. By the time I got there it had progressed about 400 metres and was 50 metres wide. It jumped the road and we’d lost it.

“Two Moyston trucks were on site and almost the second lot of appliances on scene were the large air tankers – the water bombers. They were here in half an hour which is damned good as far as I’m concerned. They put a break on the north end of town but it outflanked us on the eastern side and we went into asset protection mode. The trucks would wet down the houses and move on – they were moving all the time.

“We started off with make-tanker 20 and called for six strike teams. DEPI [now DELWP, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning] arrived with multiple appliances and that released our bigger trucks to the fire front.”

In fact CFA photographer Keith Pakenham was on scene and saw DELWP crews filling up any and every water trough they went past with grateful stock trotting across to drink.

“The Erickson Aircrane was picking up water that’s used on the Moyston Oval which was also our staging area,” continues Bill.

“The road graders came from all over putting breaks around the flanks of the fire. I don’t know what time it was – probably early Saturday morning – we had the whole fire tracked and excavators came in to push trees over.

“Saturday was a shocker. It raised dust and smoke and we had one major and two minor breakaways. We concentrated all our resources on the eastern flank with the fire heading to Ararat. Air attack was concentrating on the head and we were pinching it to a point with grader breaks all around.

“Euan [Ferguson, Chief Officer] came for a visit yesterday. He said that when it came to aircraft, we were given the lot. That’s what happens when something like this escalates.

“Five MFB strike teams helped us execute the pumper protection plan established about three years ago by CFA and Ararat City. It calls for us to place heavy pumpers around Ararat to protect the city. The plan was implemented but crews managed to hold the fire within the perimeter.

“Local ground observers were keeping ahead of the fire on high-visibility positions on the eastern flank. They were telling us where the fire was and where it was going.

“One of them was unfortunately a member of ours who lost a lot of sheep but saved his house. Thanks to him and his team for all they did.

 “About 2pm we had about five millimetres of rain and that dampened things down. Embers were falling on damp grass and going out.

“Water was an issue. Ninety per cent of our dams are dry and we had some quickfills on ones that weren’t. One of our first calls was to get water tankers from the shire and private contractors on site. Moyston township has a reticulated water system using water out of a bore in the Grampians.

“Communications back to Vic Fire were good, as was the fireground channel back to the Horsham ICC. We had a good response from them.

“Max Maclean is worth his weight in gold. He was with me as Moyston Control along with Ewan Clugston and ‘Wilbur’ Wilde in the Ararat Group FCV.

“The Westmere Group had come in with a lot of appliances and we cut the fire up. Their group ran a third of the fire out of the Willaura local command facility and we ran the rest out of Moyston Fire Station.

“A rapid response team from Stawell came and did a magnificent job feeding us. If troops are fed and watered, it makes my job a lot easier. We had stragglers coming in at midnight and they were still able to get a hot meal. Now we’ve got wives of brigade members and community members rallying around for food. They’re the people who always put their hand up.

“When you sit back and talk about it, you think, ‘How the hell did we manage to do all that?’ You know the troops will put their best effort in. I can’t praise our members enough. They had to put all their training to use with flames up to 25-feet high and a howling wind behind them.

“We have 70-odd members in our brigade and you feel pretty humble when you see all the things that just get done. I’ve also got nothing but praise for all the firefighters who came and for our control group. We had umpteen firefighters on the fireground and the jobs all got done.

“We’ve done a running grassfire exercise in the past that was helpful preparation. You have crew attacking from the back of a moving vehicle going a fair rate of knots, also using the front fixed nozzle. Two or three trucks work behind going over what the first truck missed.

“Back to the present, we’ve been working with DEPI [DELWP] disposing of sheep. The city council has now taken over that job.

“BlazeAid have put their hand up to help restore fences. Some minimum security prisoners from Ararat will come out and help with fences too – they do a great job. Some insurance assessors have been out already.

“The town will recover pretty quickly but it will take years for some farmers.”

Three slip-ons patrolled into this morning, Tuesday, with six out-of-district tankers taking on day shift.

Thanks to Keith Pakenham for photos.

Author: Leith Hillard