It is the desalination and power shed, it is in full flames, and it is too hot to approach, over” Matt responded, “Ok, keep well away, just water down the main house, to make sure that it doesn’t go up in flames, I will be there in a moment” I replied.
Grabbing my sat phone, I dialled the direct number to Carnarvon Police station. “Sergeant, this is Lloyd Templeton from Coral Coast station, our main power and desalination plant is on fire, and a fast jet boat has been spotted speeding away heading south, can you organise for it to be intercepted please, I suspect that it is arson, after the incident we had earlier, and I have had a few death threats since then too. I have enough staff here now to deal with the fire” I said, when the call was answered.
After hanging up, Dave jumped into my car, and we dashed down to the machinery shed, where we hitched up the water tank trailer, and drove to the nearby fast water supply tap, and quickly filled it up, before dashing towards the hill. By the time that we arrived, there was now a good size scrub fire, and Dave had the station vehicle and smaller water tank close to the house, keeping the flames away.
Dave jumped onto the back of the trailer, behind my vehicle and started up the pump and began to water the house down from our side, with the shed on fire just down the hill a little way, which we had to drive around, to stay clear of it. I picked up my satellite phone and dialled another number.
“Minilya, this is an Emergency Call. Fire, I repeat we have a fire on Coral Coast Station, west of the compound, generator shed and shrub fire, out of control, all assistance would be grateful” I said when the call was answered, “Roger that Coral Coast, I will put out the alert to all surrounding stations, and to Parks and Wildlife, Good luck, bye” came the response and the call ended.
By the time that Troy and Chris arrived, the scrub fire had spread, heading northwards, with a strong breeze, and the fire was no long endangering the main house, but had burnt all the land from the shed around the house, and down to the beach, before turning north.
“Chris, get your wife to pack up the caravan, and prepare to evacuate off the station, go around the long way, in case the wind changes to a westerly, and get your caravan out of 14-mile, and head south, not north, you should be safe at Minilya Roadhouse, and leave the north gate unlocked” I said to Chris, who jumped back into his vehicle and raced off again.
Troy, jump in with Matt and get the small water tanker refilled” I said as my phone began to ring.
“Hello Coral Coast, this is Jeff, the fire warden at Coral Bay, we received a message from Minilya that you have a fire on your station” the caller said.
“That is correct, the fire is suspected arson, started in the generator shed, but it is now a full-on bush fire, it has already burnt approximately 60 acres, and it is heading in a northerly direction along the coast, with it being approximately 500 metres wide and growing” I responded.
“Hell, that’s not good, we have three fire crews already on their way, coming down the Minilya Exmouth Road, what do you suggest?” the Fire warden said to me.
“We could have a huge disaster on our hands, I suggest that you evacuate Coral Bay immediately, and have them head south to Minilya.
We only have one caretaker caravan at 14-mile, and it is currently being evacuated to the roadhouse, all other station staff are at the homestead compound, I suggest that your fire crew stay tracking the fire from the Coral Coast North Road, and watch out for spot fires” I replied.
“Roger that, I understood, good luck” the fire warden said before ending the call. I next dialled triple Zero and asked for the fire department and when I was connected, I took a breath to calm down a little.
“This is Lloyd Templeton, on Coral Coast Station just south of Coral Bay, I am reporting a fire emergency. We have a fire that is out of control and heading north rapidly. Winds are currently southerly gusting to 20 km/h.
We have no persons or stock in the path of the fire, and I have already been in contact with the police as the fire is suspicious, the volunteer Fire Warden at Coral Bay called, and I have recommended that the town be evacuated.
We have three fire units on their way from Coral Bay andwill monitor the fire along our northern access road, other volunteer units are travelling from the roadhouse and neighbouring stations” I said slowly and clearly.
“Understood Mr Templeton, I have notified Carnarvon and Exmouth fire stations, and Parks and Wildlife in Carnarvon, unfortunately we have no aerial water bombers in the north of the state, and they will take time to get up from the South West region, police have also been dispatched from Carnarvon and Exmouth to assist.
Is this the best number to contact you on?’ the dispatcher replied, “Yes, it is a sat phone, I have to go, thanks” I said, and I ended the call. With the fire now over a kilometre north of where it started, we began to tackle the shed fire, which was still burning fiercely. When Matt and Troy arrived with the smaller water tank trailer, I asked them to keep tackling this fire, while we go and fill up, and start to follow the fire on the east side and try preventing it from going to much further East.
While at the shed topping up the water tank, the two-way came to life, “Base to Lloyd, over” Greg called, just letting you know that I am coordinating things from the office, Chris and Anne are now heading south on the Exmouth Road, and I have had a call from Minilya Roadhouse, they have a total of 6 fire crews from neighbouring stations, on their way over” Greg said.
“Good, go and let them through the front gate, and when they arrive, have them turn their radios to our channel, and I want you to jump into a station ute, and lead them up the main access track, and make sure that the fire doesn’t hop across the track and start heading East.
Our new gravel track should make it easy for everyone to travel on. Get Anne to take over there while you are doing that, as I need you following the side of the fire, but at no time get ahead of it, as the wind may change, remain right back as possible and wet down the grass on the west side of the track” I instructed.
“Right Boss, some vehicles have just turned up, so I will get right onto it, transferring to my ute, over and out” Greg said, “Make sure you have plenty of fresh water with you, as the tank water is artesian” I added, “Right boss, already sorted, over” Greg replied.
About five minutes later, I heard Anne’s voice on the radio, and she appeared to be getting everything under control, since she knows the layout of the station very well. “Coral Bay Fire Mobiles, please make way to the homestead compound and refill up there, before receiving further instructions, over” I heard her say, “Copy that Coral Cost Base” came a reply. Minilya Mobiles, once you have filled up, take the main access track north, it is now a gravel road, and meet up with Coral Coast Mobile One over” I heard her add.
“Roger that Coral Coast Base, is it Lloyd that we are looking out for, over?’ the mobile unit asked, “Affirmative to that question, this is Lloyd on Coral Coast Mobile one, I am approximately 4 kms north of the homestead compound, alongside the fire, where we are dampening down the side of the station track. The fire is continuing north, and has picked up speed, with winds currently gusting, over” I responded, before Sue could answer.
“Very Good Coral Coast Mobile One, see you shortly, Minilya Mobile one, over and out” came a reply. I was now at the junction turn off to Maggie’s Beach to the left and the right branch of the road heads further north., and I could see that the road to Maggie’s which heads in a north west direction, had already been cross by the fire, so I turned left, to follow the main track north.
“How are you doing back there?” I asked Dave, who was standing on the back of the ute with the fire hose in hand. “All good here boss, where does the road to the left go?” came a reply, “To Maggie’s beach, and to the propose site of the cottages, that is why it is all gravel, and compacted sand where we are heading, further north.
Keep the grass wet on the west side of this track, as it is the main access track, even thou it heads in a north east direction for a while” I replied, “Righto” Dave replied, as the fire was slowly creeping towards us, as well as roaring northwards, with the wind.
I stopped and climbed up onto the back of the vehicle beside Dave and scanned the area, and looked upwards, to see which way the smoke clouds are heading., before jumping down. “Mobile one to base, over” I called on the radio,
Receiving you Lloyd, over” Anne responded quickly, can you notify the police that we are about to have a wind change, it will be changing to a south westerly very soon, advice the police to shut down the Minilya Exmouth road, and direct all traffic from Coral Bay, north to Exmouth, over” I said.
“Receive and will do, over” Anne replied, as I climbed out again, and looked behind me, to see some more fire units approaching from behind, and they stopped behind us and began to gather.
“Gentlemen, thank you for coming, my name is Lloyd Templeton, the new owner of this station, as you heard me say to our base, I am expecting a wind shift shortly, so I suggest that we turn around and start putting out any fires that are close to the access track, so we don’t lose our escape route, as we head south.
We will have to tackle this fire from the stations north access road from now on, as it is getting too close to this track, which is not wide enough to stop the fire whenthe wind changes” I announced. “what wind change, the weather bureau says that it will stay southerly and swing to a south easterly later this afternoon” one of the men said.
“Even they can be wrong sometimes, I am the station owner, and I do not want any deaths during this emergency, so please return to your vehicles, turn around and head back towards the homestead, watering down the side of the track as we go, and we will reassess the situation back at base” I said.
The man tried to protest, but most of the men agreed with me, and so one by one the vehicles turned around and headed back south, and shortly after we had turned around, Dave shouted “Wind change, coming from the west south west now” as he climbed through the window to take shelter, and I pressed down hard on the accelerator, once he was inside and buckled in.
We had only just made it, with all the area that we were just moments ago, now consumed with fire. “Mobile one to base, over” I called on the radio, “receiving Lloyd” Anne responded, “Be advised the wind has changed and is now a west south westerly wind, and has intensified, contact the police and have them contact the neighbouring station, to let them know to prepare for a wild fire approaching from the west, and make sure no civilian vehicles are on the Minilya Exmouth Road, over” I said.
“Received, are you ok boss?” Anne replied, “yes just had a real close call, but everyone is safe and retuning to base, over” I responded. Twenty minutes later we arrived back at the visitor centre, where everyone gathered, with now over thirty fire units in the carpark.
“Can I have the senior fire members from each department or area to follow me please, everyone else please come into the visitor centre and get a drink and cool down” I called out loudly, and twelve men followed me down the hall and into the conference room, while the others stayed in the main visitor centre.
Sue and Rebecca soon arrived with jugs of cold iced water, glassed and plates of sandwiches, before they went to deliver more to the others in the foyer of the visitor’s centre. I was about to begin, when two more men entered, and they were in uniform.
“I am looking for Lloyd Templeton” one of the men asked, “that would be me, station owner and fire controller” I replied, and I recognised the patch on his arm which was Parks and wildlife, the other man was from the WA Fire & Rescue department, as we shook hands. “Since you know this area, I will let you take the lead the other man said, who has some pips on his shoulder.
“Fire Superintendent Mike Ashby, and my colleague is Parks and Wildlife Fire Manager Jim Overton” the second man said to me, and I cleared my throat to start. “As some of you are aware, a group of us nearly got caught in a wind change, which would have had us trapped, if I hadn’t acted when I did” I said, and I saw a few men nod their heads in agreement.
This fire is out of control and unpredictable, and because we have a lot of saltbush and other low foliage, it could get worse” I said as I face the Fire superintendent, “Sir, I believe that it is now out of my hands, we have not been able to control it from heading east, along a station access road, and there is nothing till it reaches the main bitumen road” I said to the fire officer.
“I think you have done a very good job so far, and I was watching from the air when the wind changed, just before we landed, a very good call on your prediction on the wind change, you have no doubt saved many lives.
Mr Templeton… Lloyd, I agree with you on your view, and thanks to your work so far, the main road is closed and all the residents and visitors from Coral bay are on their way north to Exmouth. We do have water bombers on their way, with an eta of fifteen minutes, so we will need a coordinated way of getting water to the aircraft, as quickly as possible” the Fire officer stated.
“Sir, we do have water here at the compound, but it is artesian, salty and warm, if you use the closest airstrip to here, then we can use the existing fire units here to transport water to the airstrip” I said, “Water is water, so it won’t matter that it is artesian, just means we will have to wash the tanks out properly afterwards” the fire officer said to me.
“Very well sir, I will have my station hand, Greg stationed at the water supply hose, and his older brother Matt will be parked on the main driveway, to mark the turnoff to the airstrip, which is easy to miss” I said, and on saying that, Matt handed me Angus, and followed his brother out the door.
The fire officer looked at Angus then gave a short laugh, “lead the way to your control room please” the fire officer asked me, and I lead the way into my office, with the Parks and Wildlife officer following, and Anne was busy answering phone calls.
Copyright April 2019 Preston Wigglesworth All Rights Reserved