The news pages are thin, so I thought I’d have a look back to some smaller incidents not connected to Black Saturday.
March 22, a typical North East summer day, clouds building and overdeveloping. And this day resulted in another thunderstorm, early in the day.
1031hrs the pager came to life. Column of smoke sighted on Clearspot. For us locals, that meant most likely in the steep pine forest running behind and between Bright and Porepunkah, one of our worst nightmares really.
Sure enough, a lightning strike, the smoke happily rising from the impossibly steep terrain off Dingo Ridge. The first challenge was pinpointing it, and choosing the right logging tracks to reach it.
Our slip on reached it before us on the Tanker. Porepunkah Tanker and HVP (Hancock’s Pines Victoria) Tanker and dozer joined the team. Ovens and Eurobin were turned back.
The terrain was incredibly steep, testing and challenging the fitness of the crews. The forest floor was littered with fallen pines, leaving us with the difficult task of climbing over them with loaded hoses, without falling down the hill. The relief was huge when the HPV dozer cut a track and the climb out was then only dauntingly steep, not, an obstacle course as well.
Porepunkah attacked one flank while Bright dealt with the other. The high humidity accompanying the storm slowed the spread of the fire, which increased as the storm moved away towards the mountains and the humidity dropped again.
It was a somewhat disconcerting feeling for a long time not being able to see the fire through the thick foliage, only the line of advancing smoke. The front edge moved about 80m below the road, just beyond the reach of the two hose lengths. The terrain became impossible to negotiate any further, so air support was called in. The Firebird 303 rattled in low overhead, the siren screamed and there was little we could do except turn away from the blast of air that accompanied the belly full of water falling from above.
It is an undeniably an amazing experience to be close by when one of those birds are working. The throb of the rotors, the sound of the siren, the sight of the water tumbling through the air. I have since been assured the water was from a nearby dam, but the smell at the time left me wondering if it was from the local sewage pond!
It took over 4 hours to contain, and an exhausted crew finally headed home.