The family run sheep and cattle on 4000 acres and lived through the 1952 fire that burnt from Rutherglen and the 2003 Eldorado fire that rained ash down on Wodonga.
Talk about local knowledge on the CFA Connect forum
“Our major risks are the Hume and the Melbourne to Sydney railway,” says Colin. “We have numerous fires along the freeway but we have a good relationship with Chiltern and Barnawartha brigades down the freeway. We have a service road along the freeway that’s saved us numerous times. The council keeps it in good condition.
“On top of that, Wodonga is in a valley and we have big exposure to the west of the city where there’s grassland and a regional park. The fear is a howling north westerly on a bad day.”
Local knowledge is incorporated into familiarisation drives during brigade training. “It’s the tracks, dams, knowing who’s at risk, vegetation, knowing the cleared country and the formed roads,” says Colin. “And storytelling is very important. Les Boyes tells us how he survived the 1952 fire in a concrete, six-metre square tool shed that’s still there today. My father says, ‘I don’t care how good your equipment is. If it’s a bad day like 1952, get out of its ___ road!’
“The principles we apply are Minimum Skills but they’re also based on things we’ve experienced. We had a fire that crept down a gully, crossed the gully and then had an uphill run. It burnt under our truck but they managed to get away with hoses dragging behind to get to burnt ground. That was a lesson they’ll never forget.
“Fire history is a big thing. Local knowledge has taught us where fire will come from. On a hot day, we will immediately turn out 10 tankers. We’re never afraid to over-resource initially. If it’s in timbered or steep country, we call in a helicopter from Benalla. If a strike team comes with a two wheel drive, they cart water or get deployed on the flat.
“A lot of our firefighting is done in steep hill country. We take trucks along the ridge lines and have canvas lines down the hill. Of course you have to do a risk assessment because it means you’re uphill, but it’s often the only way to get to them.
“Local knowledge means you can safely put people into a going fire.
“We had one in Huon Hill in our Group area during the drought years. It started at night time and it was obviously going to reach the hilltop. We knew the fuel load. It did exactly as we expected: we anticipated it and moved in time. Some extremely good firefighting held it on the hill. We put it out without any major damage. It was very satisfying.”