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Day one of November's Otway fires
1 December 2003

Photo GalleryOn the last weekend of November, during stormy weather along Victoria's coast, lightning struck in the Otways starting several fires.

On Sunday 30 November fire fighters from the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Parks Victoria and the CFA were deployed to fight four fires in the Otways between Chapple Vale and Anglesea.

Ranging in size from two to nearly 270 hectares, the fires blazed in difficult and rugged terrain, demanding much of fire fighters and the team managing the incidents.

Throughout the day and night, well over 230 personnel from all agencies attacked the four fires on the ground with rake hoes or in 4-wheel drive vehicles, tankers and bulldozers. Attack also came by air from helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

At the Incident Control Centre in the DPI office, Colac, around 25 people worked in the Incident Management Team. Some planned the control strategy for the fires, based on information from operations personnel, aircraft reconnaissance and the Bureau of Meteorology. Others organised fire fighter rosters and shifts along with food and accommodation, and arranged for fresh crews to be available on day two of the fires.

In tough conditions, the crews, some of them recently trained Project Fire fighter recruits, battled to suppress each fire. Early in the afternoon rain reduced the activity of all four fires. DSE Incident Controller Peter Novotny welcomed the showers, saying they slowed the spread significantly.

"By 2.30pm the two hectare King Track Fire at Chapple Vale had been declared contained - ringed completely by a track of bare earth, over which the fire could not burn," he said. He confirmed that a small crew then remained on patrol in the area to bring the fire under control during the evening.

The fire at Calder Track, although small in size at 4 hectares, was located in remote and difficult country north of the Great Ocean Road in the Hordern Vale area. Mr Novotny said that throughout the late afternoon and evening, crews worked hard to bring the fire closer to containment. He expects containment to be declared sometime during Monday morning.

The fire closest to Anglesea - the Mt Ingoldsby Fire just west of the town - was declared contained by 9pm. Rain earlier in the afternoon had pulled up the 75-hectare fire just short of the main power line.

"The Ingoldsby fire has been fully tracked with a solid containment line," said Mr Novotny.
DSE fire fighters will remain throughout the night to patrol the fire and will be replaced by fresh crews in the morning.

The fourth fire, Gum Flat Fire in the Gum Flat Road area north of Anglesea - also in challenging countryside - is the largest at 264 hectares. Fire suppression works are progressing well according to Mr Novotny.

"Crews assisted by bulldozers will continue working overnight to complete the containment line around the fire," he said. "Containment of this fire is also likely by noon Monday."

Monday's weather is likely to assist the fire fighting effort. The temperature is expected to reach 25º, humidity level will be 41% and the winds will be southerly at around 20 kilometres per hour.

Peter Novotny praised the crews and the team managing the incident. "These fires so early in the season, and following closely the recent fire training camps in the south west, have been a good test of our readiness and response," he said.

Mr Novotny said, "Our fire fighters are making a terrific effort to suppress the fires which cover around 345 hectares. They've already brought one fire under control and a second to containment by 9pm Sunday night and I'm confident we will have the others contained early on Monday."

Estimated combined agency resources for November 30 - day one of the Otways fires:
2 Aircraft
3 Helicopters
8 Bulldozers
37 Tankers
32 Slip-ons
265 Fire fighters and members of the Incident Management Team

Joint Media Release from the Department of Sustainability and Environment and CFA

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