This is a story of my experiences that I was asked to write for a local book about a wildfire that came through my area in 2006.
30 celsius is 86F http://www.metric-conversions.org/temperature/celsius-to-fahrenheit.htm
Just to refresh your memory, the Grampians fires, started on Thursday night the 19/1/06 by lightning strike on Mt Lubra. The fire was not found until 7.30 am the next morning. The forecast was hot and dry with a north wind until Sunday with a southerly change to come through then.
As a family, we were off to the beach on our annual holidays. It was Friday morning. I was packed ready to go but I thought that the weather forecast didn’t look good, So, I rang Tom Parks one of my CFA officers and also a son of a Parks Victoria employee, I told him that if anything should happen to give me a call. He said, “ we have a fire on Mt Lubra that we can’t get to and it’s looking dangerous”
To me now, they were famous last words. Anyway, off we went on holidays.
All day Saturday, I kept looking at the Internet to find out what was happening. Saturday night was warm and I had trouble sleeping and I was awake at 5.15am. I got up and went for a walk along the beach. At 8.15am the family got up and I checked the Internet to see what was happening. It didn’t look good. I rang region 16 CFA and asked them what they thought. (Go home)
Question. Do I take my family with me? I am CFA trained, so it would be easier for me to defend myself by myself and there would be no danger to them. At 9.30am off home alone I go and it will take 3 hours to get there.
Coming out of Geelong and listening to ABC radio, I am feeling quiet high on the adrenalin that must have been pumping. There are fires at Beauford, Heywood and Gippsland and the ABC is broadcasting the fires full time. It’s 38 degs and blowing hard. I drop in to CFA region 16 HQ at Ararat and they wish me good luck. A strike team from the Murray River area is there and they are being deployed to the south, I said good luck to them and stay out of the bush to keep safe.
I arrived home and set up the defenses for the home (hose, water, blankets, radio, ETC.)
The column of smoke roaring into the sky to the south is awe-inspiring. I decided to go to the Halls Gap station to find out more info.
I get to the station and yep, the alarm goes off, so I am in the truck heading towards Stawell to a tree fire in the new years day fire area. (Scary stuff this. Fighting one fire while looking over your shoulder at the column of smoke of the other and thinking of what your wife would say if you are not home when the fire front hits home)
Back home to stay
Phone rang. Could I take the Halls Gap tanker down to the oval at Halls Gap, as there are no other drivers around to do it.
Have set up tanker on oval to defend the staging area. I hear on the radio that the fire has reached Lady Somers bridge 6klm the other side of Pomonal. I grab a lift back to the station to pick up my car and pass 3 CFA tankers on the corner of Stawell-Halls gap and Pomonal roads. In my car, I have 5klm to travel. It is daylight when I leave the station, but 1klm from home it’s dark and I am having trouble seeing. I ask myself should I be still driving? I was lucky that my hill I live on created an air pocket where I could drive under the smoke to make it to my driveway.
Throw cocky into toilet and close door, put my protective clothes on, now I am ready to start. I reach down for the hose and I hear a very loud roar. I look over to my next-door neighbors property to see a 30feet high 10 feet wide fireball doing 100klm across the rise. “Shit” I thought, that better not hit me. I fearfully look past my house to see what’s coming, but it does not look too bad. I start to walk about 30 meters towards the fire and realize that the scrub has slowed the fire front down on my side of the road. “Great, I can fight you” I think. I can see clearly for only 30 meters but I can see the orange flame through the smoke coming at me. I turn around and head back towards the house, I am thinking, “I have got this fire licked”, I have kept the vegetation down, so there is not much for the fire front to burn as it comes through. As I start to walk back, I notice 5 feet away, a 6-foot high male grey kangaroo walking with me. He walks the 30 meters with me. He looks tired already. I said to him “ good luck mate hope you make it”
When I get back to my hose near the house, I start to reach down to pick it up and I hear another noise, I look up to see the Dadswell bridge tanker turning into my driveway and with it the strike team leaders ute.
My immediate thought is I’m safe.
After about 20 minutes the front had gone through and we had kept the fire mostly out of my house yard but lost all my fencing and 2/3 of my 5acre property.
What I learnt
Don’t use bark chips in my garden, as they are hard to put out. Ash will get into every thing, including up your nose. Filling up the big green garbage bin was a great idea; I used it to fill the buckets I used on places my hose did not reach.
Even though I thought my drive way was very clear, the Dadswell bridge boys did not think so, they did not want to turn into my driveway for fear of being trapped, but the strike team leader came in and told them it was safe to come in. When I look at my small tree line (6 trees) and think of 30-meter visibility I commend those boys for their courage on the night. Their partner tanker who went next door melted their red and blue light on their roof to get there. It has made me think!
I would like to see more roadside burn off’s to keep the tunnel of fire down so a CFA tanker can drive on a road safely during the time the fire front moves through.
Monday morning 7.30am been to the gap for breakfast and will try to sleep on the couch. 8.30am Luke my neighbor is inside my house trying to wake me. He says, “your wife will ring his mobile phone in 5 minutes as she has been trying to reach me” The power is out, the phones are out, I can not recharge my mobile phone. Thanks Luke. I was a bit busy and forgot what my family must have been going through not being here and listening to the radio reports of the fire.
10.30am I am back in Halls Gap, over the next week, I spent most of my time at the Halls Gap Staging area. I was re-attacked by the fire on Australia day, which is a funny story in itself. But due to limited space I have to keep it brief. Although I would have liked to tell you about the bravery of the DSE and CFA firefighters, the Volunteers and the workers on my side of the fire ground.
There are many stories worth telling, such as, the media, politicians who came for a photo opportunity, and a command decision that stressed the staging area. CFA crews that had a fire close to their own areas but were in the Grampians to fight our fire. A doctor who told me he was making money out of the fire as I was about the 6th patients that he had treated for ash in the eye, 50 feet high fireballs roaring over the trees. Stress that the population is going through now. Tankers and bulldozers that had near misses. The air show, those guys are worth their weight in gold, and not forgetting Mother Nature as she put on a very fierce show.
May I say thank you all, there is a lot more good out there than bad and I am proud to be a part of this Australian community.
To the NSW firefighter whom was working on Boronia peak on day 14 approx that said on radio “it would be beautiful country if you didn’t have to work it”
Yes, the Grampians are beautiful and Mother Nature’s is still putting on a show.