1 December 2003
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
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:
265 Fire fighters and members of the Incident Management Team