Reopening to Mallacoota (Vic.): escorted convoys, and army making supply runs.
'We dug in': How CFA volunteers from 390km away helped save Orbost January 5, 2020. 17 comments
On New Year’s Eve, Mark Hatton and fellow Truganina CFA volunteers were travelling over the West Gate Bridge in a bus, on the way home from fighting fires in East Gippsland.
Mr Hatton says the bridge provided a great view of the city fireworks, "but I would rather have spent it with family".
The Truganina fire truck at Orbost.
He is proud, however, that his crew helped save the town of Orbost when the fire front swept through last Monday.
Mr Hatton, the CFA captain at Truganina, 390 kilometres west of Orbost, was among 24 firefighters, mostly from Melbourne’s west and north, who helped save lives and houses that day in the small East Gippsland town.
In the wider picture, the CFA said more than 2000 volunteer firefighters had given up their Christmas holidays, family and work commitments to serve in East Gippsland, some from the other end of the state.
A spot fire burning at the weekend between Orbost and Cann River.Credit:Getty Images
Mr Hatton said access to Orbost was cut off about 4pm last Monday, and about 5.30pm, "we were told that there was no one coming to help us".
"We couldn’t get out and no one could get in," he said.
"About 4.30pm, the sky turned pitch black and the fire came running across from the ridges, from the west, and just after midnight, we started having ember attacks landing in the surrounding paddocks and surrounding houses.
"So we went from fire to fire, putting them out so they didn’t spread and run through the township."
CFA captain Mark Hatton (right) and other crew helped save lives in Orbost.
Hundreds sheltered at a cricket oval, but locals who stayed at home were instructed to soak their houses with hoses and put out embers.
Mr Hatton said that over 18 hours on duty that day, there was no time to think or stand still. "We just dug in and put the fires out," he said.
"Everything that came at us, we had to deal with as it came along."
Mr Hatton had driven the Truganina fire truck up to Gippsland on December 28 with three others from his station.
Their mission was "for asset protection and to save the town when the fire came through. That was our plan. And we did."
The bus trip home on New Year’s Eve took 5½ hours.
"It was well after 12 [midnight] before we got home, back to our families," Mr Hatton said.
Asked why he volunteered for the fires, he said: "Helping our community – in our local area, that’s what we do all year. And then, when the calls come to help other communities, once we know ours are safe, we go and do it.
"Because if we don’t, who else is going to? Helping others is pretty much the main reason".
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30 Jan 2020 Inside the inferno: RFS captain relives moment fire rolls over truck
RFS Captain tells of extreme heat, his pride in his team
Within only three minutes, day turned to night as winds of 100km/h lashed the area, embers rained down and the Currowan inferno passed over a Dunmore Rural Fire Service crew.
As they were overrun with the fire front, the captain knew he had three jobs to do: save the Tomerong property, protect the truck but most importantly keep his crew safe.
In an unbelievable feat, the crew did all three.
Dunmore brigade captain Greg Hardy has released shocking dashcam footage of the truck being hit with fire while the crew was doing property protection along Turpentine Road on January 4.
Teamwork: Dunmore RFS members Les Millier, Greg Hardy, Daryl Kimmins, Cameron Chisholm and Tim Anderson worked well together to remain safe when the Currowan fire front rolled over their truck. Picture: Adam McLean
The crew were receiving a supply of drinking water from another RFS truck when a southerly wind change arrived 10 minutes earlier than forecast.
What happened next is almost unimaginable for those not in the RFS.
Mr Hardy said the the first sign of fire was 100-metres away and only one-metre tall. The other truck left.
Then the Dunmore crew braced themselves and got to work.
"We were covered with smoke by 7pm and less than a minute later there was an extreme ember attack and multiple spot fires," Mr Hardy said.
"Then we were overrun by the fire. Flames were more than 50 metres high.
"We were out of the truck defending the house with a hose line. We couldn't even see the house. We didn't know whether it was alight."
Dunmore RFS members Les Millier, Greg Hardy, Daryl Kimmins, Cameron Chisholm and Tim Anderson relive the moments they overrun with fire when protecting a home. Picture: Adam McLean
Mr Hardy said a crew member jumped into the truck to turn on the cabin spray to protect the vehicle from embers.
"I was running around hitting the truck with water while another crew member used a small hose line to douse the rest of the truck to keep it safe," he said.
"The fire was moving north rapidly. We turned the spray off because we didn't want to lose all our water. We did that another two times. It was crazy and full on."
Crazy situation: Day turned to night as smoke and strong winds quickly moved the fire front towards the crew.
Mr Hardy said visibility was so poor that they could only see five or eight metres in front of them.
"We knew where the house was, so we were pointing the hose towards it. We kept using the hoses to wet ourselves and the truck."
Plus there was the "unbearable" heat.
"Under the 50-metre flame height, with a southerly, the heat was massive and extreme," he said. "Our adrenaline was high and because we were doing our jobs we forgot about it.
"But it was bloody hot in our gear and helmets. Continually hosing ourselves helped."
Mr Hardy said after the main fire front had passed, the crew had to quickly fill the truck with water from a neighbouring property's dam and got back to the house as there was still a major risk of it catching alight from embers.
Mr Hardy said the house was saved but some of the garden was burnt.
The crew continued to patrol the area into the night to make sure no spot fires ignited.
Inferno: It only took a couple of minutes before the truck was overrun and there were embers flying everywhere.
The captain said he could not be prouder of his crew for the amazing job they did under stressful and incredibly dangerous circumstances.
"I have been in the service for 25 years and I have never been in that situation. I hope to never see anything like it again," he said.
"My crew listened to everything I said and they thanked me for the way I controlled the situation. Everyone felt safe."
At one point, Mr Hardy told two of his crew members to go inside as they were starting to cough.
They got into the truck to have a breather but within 30 seconds they were back out helping.
"I expected them to stay in longer but they wanted to be involved, help and make sure everyone else was safe," he said.
Dumnore RFS crew Tim Anderson, Greg Hardy, Cameron Chisholm, Les Millier and Daryl Kimmins at their station. Picture: Adam McLean
Mr Hardy said other captains may have handled the situation differently but looking back he would not have changed how he handled the incident.
"Another captain may have gone into an emergency drill and stayed in the truck but I knew I had a good, experienced crew," he said.
"I had faith in them and I knew we would get through it."
None of the crew members had seen a fire like that before despite their more than 75 years of combined service, but even though they weren't "calm", their training kicked in.
The crew are doing well thanks to the support from each other, volunteers from the brigade and their families.
Mr Hardy said the experience highlighted how quickly a fire could change and move.
"That's why people need to adhere to the advice provided by RFS members," he said. "You do not want to be caught in that situation."
Mr Hardy said the crew knew there were still residents in the area when the fire front hit but thankfully everyone was safe.
Jack, Might I suggest that until you have some experience with bush fires, their unpredictability and the dangers involved, you may wish to save your needless questions. This, you can't get out of books.
Life in the bush is an uncertainty at best and during times of high fire danger, no amount of preparation is guaranteed to save any property, regardless of the type of building, it's location, or it's surrounds. We just have to be grateful for the thousands of fire fighter in the community who risk their lives to protect others and properties.
And get a bit of experience with the NSW government ......a friend living now on the south coast wanted to clear a small firebreak and remove 4 trees likely to fall on his house in a fire......costs of around $20,000 for the environmental assessment report to apply for the approval......if the application is knocked back ,money kaput.....Assuming the application is granted ,he then needs qualified professionals to do the work ,and he also has to pay for green offsets ,just a never ending money grab by the NSW govt and local council.
wee-allis wrote: Jack, Might I suggest that until you have some experience with bush fires, their unpredictability and the dangers involved, you may wish to save your needless questions. This, you can't get out of books...
wee-allis, I’ll move this to the Bush Fire thread..