Mildura Weekly : Friday January 3 2014 Vol 8 No 9
www.milduraweekly.com.au 6 Mildura Weekly – 03/01/14 THEY use words like ‘bomber,’ ‘attack,’ and ‘defensive perimeter’ so readily that you could be forgiven for thinking you are in the midst of a war zone. And, in many ways, that is exactly what fight- ing a bushfire is like. It is a war against an unpre- dictable enemy. An en- emy that can move with breathtaking speed and ferocity; has scant regard for life, limb or property, and will not surrender. It has to be subdued ut- terly. A good case in point is this week’s fire in the Murray Sunset National Park. Started by a lightning strike in one of the most inaccessible areas of the park last Saturday after- noon, the fire was only listed as “contained” yes- terday. “If we had to choose a spot in the park that we would least like to fight a fire, this would have been it,” the Department of Environment and Prima- ry Industries fire manager Mallee, Phil Murdoch, said. The battle to subdue the blaze started soon after it was reported, with two fixed wing fire- bombing aircraft* – one drawn from Bairnsdale, and the other from Ben- digo, laying down bright orange retardant**in an effort to quell the blaze. They were assisted by two reconnaissance air- craft, and later by anoth- er two, fixed-wing aerial bombers, this time called in from Casterton. Fortunately, Mr Mur- doch said the bombers were not needed else- where in the State at the time, and they could be redirected to help fight the Mallee fire. But while Saturday’s weather – hot, dry and with high winds was per- fect for a hungry bushfire, it was not good for flying, and all aircraft had to be grounded. With better flying conditions, the aerial bombardment began again on Sunday, and the fight to contain the blaze was on in earnest. Fighting a fire on this scale has all the hall- marks of a military op- eration, with judicious planning being the key, along with good commu- nications, and the flex- ibility to respond quickly to a range of changing conditions. Mother Nature, Mr Murdoch, acknowledged does not make it easy. She can be fickle, but he was thankful for the cooler, and less windy, weather conditions that prevailed this week, and which ultimately assisted the fire-fighting effort. But there was a snag. Aerial reconnaissance missions on Saturday had revealed the fire had started 30 kilometres from the nearest road, and the DEPI had to call in two large Caterpillar D6 bulldozers to clear an access track for the crews that would fight the bat- tle from the ground. The undulating sandhill country of the Murray-Sunset is formi- dable, Mr Murdoch re- vealed, with some of the dunes rising up to 100 metres. That, he said, made the going tough for both the ‘dozers, and the ground crews that fol- lowed. It took 3.5 hours for the crews to drive from Mildura to the DEPI’s fire-fighting staging area at Linga, and another 2.5 hours to drive the 15 ki- lometres to the fire front, indicative of the tough terrain in the area. Air support is a great fire-fighting asset, Mr Murdoch said, but like an Army, it is the men, and women, on the ground who do the ‘heavy lifting.’ Fires, he said, can not be fought entirely from the air. In all, the DEPI had 10 fire-fighting vehicles on the ground, and dur- ing the week more than 80 firefighters had taken part in the operation. The good news was that the firefighters were helped on two of the fire fronts, Mr Murdoch said, by previous fuel reduc- tion burns in the area during the past decade. Speaking yesterday, as the fire fighting effort wound down, Mr Mur- doch said the fire had burned out about 1500 hectares of bushland, and had a perimeter of about 37 kilometres. * The fixed-winged ‘bombers’ are aerial crop sprayers reas- signed and contracted, along with their pilots, as fire bombers for the summer fire season. **The retardant is col- oured orange to make it easy to see where it has fallen. This in turn assists crews of the re- connaissance aircraft to direct the fire-fighting effort. Men like Nathan Christian, the DEPI’s Air Attack Supervi- sor for this fire. These are his photos show- ing a fixed-wing aerial bomber dropping re- tardant on what is now known as the Murray Sunset Pheeny’s Track Fire. It’s war in the bush! www.milduraweekly.com.au By GRANT MAYNARD Are you planning a new career, enhancing your employment pathway or want to update your existing skills? MADEC can provide nationally accredited training to suit your personal needs. 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Friday December 20 2013 Vol 8 No 8
Friday January 10 2014 Vol 8 No 10