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Mop up

Frank Dunstan
Revised: Friday 01 May 2009 

I was once known as the “Mop up King”, a title that was given by my fellow bushfire fighters and at the 2004 firies’ Christmas do was given an “award” to recognise this status.

Brilliant, isn’t he?

When I started out as a firie the mop up was considered to be fairly unimportant and consisted of people half heartedly hosing down burning logs, etc from the comfort of their fire units. To actually get out of the vehicle to use the rear hose reel and turn over burning logs was almost unheard of. At one fire I even had my pump turned off by the warden in charge to stop me from mopping up.

How times have changed for the better! There is now a sense of professionalism with a comprehensive mop up after each fire followed by a thorough finishing mop up the next day.

Most firies are now "Mop Up Kings & Queens" which makes my title redundant.
The mop up after the fire is just as important as controlling or putting the fire out in the first place. This can be time consuming, tedious work, but is essential to ensure the fire doesn’t flare up again.

My mop up procedure once the fire is out or under control:

· Drive back along the fire line checking above ground in trees for burning bark, branches, etc. that could cause spot-overs. This is especially important if the wind is blowing back across the containment line. If the fire has been on a block of land always check the downwind side first.

· Check for weak points where the fire may burn back and get across. If necessary, run a drip torch to take out unburnt patches on the fire line. This is essential if the fuel is continuous with still burning areas, less so if it is isolated from the fire.

· Hollow trees may be alight with either flames (candles) or smoke (chimneys) coming out up top. In many trees smoke often originates from internal burning low down in the trunk. There is nearly always an opening where the fire has entered and a hose and nozzle inserted can usually put it out. Care should be taken as the water that comes back down can be hot at first. Wear full PPE and watch for falling branches.

· In other cases water can be lobbed into the top opening, putting the fire out as it runs down inside. Class A foam aids in quenching the fire.

A living tree is a valuable part of the environment and cutting one down or pushing it over should be a last resort.

· When it is safe above ground level drive along the fire line, starting downwind, progressively blacking out. This means running out the long hose and dousing everything that smokes. Ground hot spots are also located and cooled.

Only drive off the containment line into the bush when necessary. Be careful not to stake tyres and only drive over small trees when unavoidable.

· To save water small burning logs are dragged or carried a safe distance into the black.

· The rake-hoe is very handy for breaking up burning windrows and ground hot spots.

Minimum mop up standards are:

· 20-30 metres for ground fuels

· 100 metres for stags and trees

This area may be extended in periods of extreme fire danger or where strong winds are blowing back across the containment line. Relatively small fire grounds should be blacked out completely.

· Leave the fire ground when satisfied that the area is safe. Depending on the time of day and weather conditions return at intervals to make sure that it is still safe.

Follow up procedures will depend on the size of the fire, the time of year, weather conditions and assets in the area.

· Early the following morning patrol the fire line, putting out any smoke sources within the mop up zone.

· Later, when the wind starts to pick up, return to make sure that all is safe. In periods of extreme fire danger or dry windy weather return at intervals through the day and again the following morning.

This is boring, tedious work that a lot of people in past years didn't have the patience for. I guess 2½ years spent on a hydrographic survey ship steaming up and down the same bit of ocean for months on end got me used to boring, tedious work.

I hate having to return to fight yesterday’s fire again because it wasn’t put out properly in the first place. Unfortunately, that happened when I was still a novice firie. Fortunately, the warden in charge of that fire, who sent people from other brigades home before the fire was out and which I spent an unnecessary extra two days on, has long gone. (Yeah, he's the same bloke who turned my pump off on another fire ground.)

You can get quite grubby mopping up which may be another reason why it was an unpopular pastime. Just have an extra long shower and soak the PPE in Napisan, no problem. There are no water restrictions in the Top End.  

Below: The "Mop up King" getting dirty in the Rum Jungle area

Above: The "Mop-up King" with trophy and armed with tools of trade
Photo gallery:

All photographs by courtesy Bushfires NT - I believe the photographer was Christine Corney.

Above: Hitting a burning tree with foam near Aberfeldy, Victoria - January 2007

Below: Two St John Ambulance volunteers in their other role as BFNT volunteers mopping up a large hot spot at Aberfeldy, Victoria - January 2007


Above: Checking for ground hot spots near Aberfeldy, Victoria - January 2007
Below: Mopping up in the Victorian high country - January 2007

Above: The rake-hoe is handy for breaking up ground hot spots