Tue 09 Jan— Travel to Melbourne via Adelaide. A lot of smoke in the air. Several members of the first contingent back for another go.
Wed 10 Jan—Pre-deployment induction, then bus to Rawson. Excellent accommodation in cabins in a very beautiful caravan park. Lots of birds, mainly Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, King Parrot, Crimson Rosella, Kookaburra and Superb Blue Wren. We saw Lyre Birds, rabbits and the occasional wombat out in the bush.
This trip Frank was teamed with Justin Hankinson, Captain of the Tennant Creek Volunteer Bushfire Brigade. Justin is quite a dynamo as he is also a St John Ambulance volunteer and Superintendent of the Tennant Creek Adult Division.
With the NTFRS contingent was Bruce Jones from Batchelor. Bruce is also a St John Ambulance volunteer in the Batchelor Division.
Frank is an affiliate St John Ambulance member with the Humpty Doo Division. His main role with St John is to produce a weekly newsletter, "Vollie News".
Thu 11 Jan— Put on night shift. Had a close up look at Elvis, the Erickson S64F Aircrane water bombing chopper. It has a tank capacity of 9000 litres and can fill in 45 seconds. The pilot said that he has been coming out to Australia for 10 years now and only gets about 6 months of the year at home. The name Elvis was given in Australia and was originally disliked by the crew, but they have since grown to accept it.
There was a very large pyro-cumulus cloud generated by the fires immediately to the north of Erica. These clouds are of concern as they can produce lightning, starting more fires.
Night Shift: Thu – Fri 12 Jan— Initially sent north to Aberfeldy via the Thomson Dam, which is Melbourne’s main water supply. The dam level is very low and we watched while Elvis and a smaller chopper filled from the dam while attacking the fire that was making the large cloud to the south towards Erica.
Diverted to a sector via Walhalla where we conducted a back burn with the NTFRS team, CFA units and DSE.
Night Shift: Fri – Sat 13 Jan— Drove through Walhalla to the area of last night’s burn where we were directed to head north west to Mount Baw Baw through some very steep country that tested our GFU’s and four wheel driving skills. Drove down one very long, steep slope to a river valley where the road was out due to a burnt out bridge. The command vehicle made it up the fire break on the other side, which was just as high and steep, but the first GFU could not, due to slipping in the soft surface. Following vehicles did not even try the climb. Back to Erica the way we came in, then out to our patrol line via the Thomson Dam. While we patrolled our team leaders carried out recovery programs on the other side to rescue stuck vehicles. We copped some ribbing from the locals about our vehicles being unable to handle the terrain until the following night when DSE vehicles also failed to navigate and one was flipped and rolled on the same track. The vehicle was badly damaged with a crushed cab, but luckily the driver escaped unhurt. That track was closed to traffic after this.
Note: Our GFU's were all fitted with road radial tyres to suit local NT driving conditions. BFNT said that should we be asked to help out in Victoria again that they would be fitted with tyres more suited to mountain terrain before departure.
Night Shift: Sat – Sun 14 Jan— One of the NTFRS vehicles was out of action, so Frank was stood down for the night to allow Bruce Jones, NTFRS volunteer, to go out in his place, Bruce having been stood down the previous night. Having slept during the day Frank was in no mood for a night off, so seconded himself to the Incident Management Team (IMT) for the night. It was bitterly cold for the fire crews out at Aberfeldy and most were eventually stood down, leaving just a couple on patrol.
Sun 14 Jan— Transferred to Day Shift, so had the day and night off. Bushfires NT vehicles were driven to a car wash in Moe and detailed. Spent the rest of the day washing and drying clothes for ourselves and for sleeping mates who had spent the whole night patrolling the fire line.
Mon 15 Jan— Assigned to patrol between Aberfeldy and Matlock. In daylight we could now see what we were doing and spent a very productive day finding and dousing numerous hot spots. Daylight patrols meant that we achieved considerably more than we had in the dark.
At the Matlock end the containment line fire breaks are very wide, possibly up to 100 metres.
Tue 16 Jan— Back to patrol the same areas where we found more hot spots in previously covered ground. Shown how the locals deal with ground hot spots. Took a run on a steep, winding, narrow track down the mountain to Donnellys Creek where we met a fascinating couple, Graham and Lynda Code. In the afternoon we were assigned to patrol from Donnellys Creek Road to a turkey’s nest watering point, over very steep fire breaks that followed the ridges, rather than going around them like the road.
Wed 17 Jan— Drove the Bushfires NT GFU’s to the Moe car wash where we cleaned and detailed them before hand-over to the next deployment.
Bus to Melbourne for debrief and some R&R. Given a Certificate of Appreciation signed by the Victorian Premier and “awarded” the Star of Erica for detailing the vehicles.
At the debrief the importance of our work was explained. Told that if the Thomson Catchment burned the Melbourne water supply could be contaminated for up to 30 years and that Mountain Ash regrowth is very water hungry and would have a negative impact on the dam recharging.
Saw on the evening TV news that lightning had started a fire in the Thomson Dam catchment area over the containment line.
That evening the younger members had a night out in Melbourne while the older ones had a seafood banquet at a Chinese restaurant close to our motel. A very enjoyable evening was had by all. Told of the possibility of being called to help out with South Australian wildfires.
Thu 18 Jan— Up at 0430, bus to the airport and return via Adelaide to beautiful, rainy Darwin.
This was quite a learning experience on how another jurisdiction manages fire grounds. We learned a lot about the Victorian ways – so very different to our own – which will prove invaluable if we are called back to help out in future years. We also learned a lot about four wheel driving in steep mountain country which will also be of value.