Livingstone Wildfire

posted Oct 16, 2009, 3:57 AM by Frank Dunstan   [ updated May 30, 2010, 3:59 PM ]
Friday 16 October 2009

Today was a fire ban day - hot, dry, with gusty easterly winds.

Wildfire started Ridings Road in Livingstone Volunteer Bushfire Brigade's area about 1130 hrs. A lot of fully cured gamba grass in the area. Pandanus causing spot fires a considerable distance ahead of the fire front. 

Louie King's report:

This is the slightly edited transcript of a recorded interview.

“I got a call-out at half past eleven from Dave, Darwin River Dave that there was a fire on Ridings Road, so I went over there, and when I got there I got to the scene where the fire started. One of the fellows who started it wanted me to put the fire out with a back-burn, but ‘no way in the world’, I said, ‘I’m going to hit the front of the fire.’

“When I got to the front of the fire it was all scrub and I had to do a lot of scrub bashing and couldn’t get near some of it. Then John Whatley radioed and asked if I needed a plane; I said, ‘Yes, it would come in handy.’ Twenty minutes later the plane came over and we thought we were going to have it all tied up, but the wind kept on changing. Then after about three drops of the load the fire just got completely out of hand.

“I went around the northern flank and ran into another fire unit. He was dry bogged and I spent half an hour trying to get him out of the bog, which we finally did. Before I got there the fire went right around him. He had the biggest problems and when I got there he was nearly dead from exhaustion. When we finally got him out I back tracked where I’d been, putting out all the burning pasture.

“I then flew out to Notta Road; I went to go in one block, but the gate was locked and there was a person about 100 metres away (inside the block) looking up like a stunned mullet, so I put my hands up and went into the next block up, but the scrub was so thick again. Every time I put the fire out I looked in the rear vision mirror and it was all lit up, so I said this was a waste of time. I went back and helped burn around the house.

“I left there and kept going west. We had to burn around a bit of a house there and then got a call to Parkin Road. We tried to burn back on there, but it was a waste of time as there were fires jumping left, right and centre.  We then had to fall back and put a burn in along a fire break. Lee Humphris in the spotter helicopter said that the only way we were going to stop it was to follow this east-west firebreak, so we all burnt along there.

“Before that we had to go into house protection among all these shacks, dongas down in no man’s land, you could say. We went around there and there were two huts with bits of machinery and cars and that. We burnt around them, then we had to back burn to stop it getting across to Old Bynoe Road. That took quite a while and it was then getting on to about 5 o’clock, I suppose. Then we were just mainly mopping up.

“The fire did jump Fly Creek, but our previous burns pulled it all up. Also, I was talking to the mob up on Hughes Airstrip and they said that they loaded that plane (Air Tractor) 37 times, which was 3000 litres per go. I couldn’t tell you how many times the choppers loaded up their Bambi buckets.” 

Frank Dunstan's report:

I can only report on my activities, but other fire fighters would have similar stories to tell.

On one block the house was safe, but the garden and back yard were burning, a shed was under threat and a pasture paddock on fire. Access was made difficult by a telephone cable strung above ground through mango trees, fences and a very complicated gate to get into the paddock (we only cut fences if we absolutely have to, especially when there are horses or other livestock on the property). When this place was made safe the block next door received urgent attention. 

This property was heavily infested with gamba grass and there was an extensive garden around the house full of dry fuel. The roof had a thick layer of leaves and trees with low overhanging branches made access difficult. The owner was on site and I told him that the place would be very difficult to defend. Back burning around the house was not an option due to the amount of fuel and the lack of any break or cleared area to burn from. When the Air Tractor stopped the advancing fire I took the opportunity to go out for water.

Driving back from the tanker I was met on the road by a frantic person with a mobile phone in his hand who said that his mate was inside trapped by the fire and couldn't get out. The property I had just left was now well ablaze and I had to drive through a wall of fire to get in to the house. There was fire all around in the garden and up to the house and sheds. A call for backup brought Ray Nicholls, Captain of Cox Peninsula VBB and together we saved that house and outbuildings from burning. The house caught alight at a window frame and some timber pallets leaning up along one wall were burning, but they were quickly put out. The roof was wet down to put out smouldering leaves.

When it was all out the owner gave me a history of fires that had gone through his block, the last being two years ago, yet the place was still a fire trap. Maybe next time, if he doesn't get his act together and clean the place up, he may not be so lucky.

Fire units from Livingstone, Acacia Hills, Berry Springs, Cox Peninsula, Rum Jungle (BART), Elizabeth Valley, Lambells Lagoon, Manton and Bushfires NT; tankers from Livingstone and Darwin River; Air Tractor (filling from Hughes Airstrip) and helicopter water bombers (filling from Fly Creek); aerial spotter helicopter. As usual, Johnno Hayden's front end loader and Billy Skewes' grader did a magnificent job putting in breaks. Livingstone volunteers also manned spare Grass Fire Units from Labasheeda and Darwin River. We were also backed by residents in their private vehicles.

The fire jumped Fly Creek, but fortunately we had burnt a large crown land block early in the bushfire season as part of our prescribed burning program which halted the fire's westward progress.

Didn't get any photos as too busy fire fighting.

Following days:

Saturday was a massive mop-up operation, being another fire ban day. Graders and front end loaders put in breaks around neighbouring unburnt properties to ensure their safety should the fire flare up again. Volunteers from many Brigades mopped up, assisted by water bombing helicopters. In the afternoon several crews had to leave to attend a wildfire at Jenkins Road, Noonamah.

Sunday was a continuation of the mop up with crews on the fire ground all day. There was another fire ban with FDI of 95.

Monday, crews were out patrolling to ensure all was safe. Another fire ban today, although not as bad as Sunday.

Information from Bushfires NT is that the fire covered 6km2 area and impacted 19 properties. We protected 15 structures and 3 mango orchards.

Left:    Letter to the Editor

          Northern Territory News - Friday 23 October 2009

Thankyou Frank,

I enjoyed reading your article and knowing our volunteers do the most brilliant of jobs. You all make Bushfires NT job a might easier just knowing that you are there and you make the agency look very professional. I thank you all.

 Cheers from

Christine Corney

Fire Control Officer 
Vernon / Arafura Region