“If you like sir, we can transfer it all to the conference room, that way we will all be comfortable and less crowded.
“That would be good” the fire officer, Mike replied, just as Anne ended a call and looked up.
“Did you hear that?” I asked her.
“Yes, give me a few minutes and I will have everything moved to the conference room” Anne replied, and I assisted her to get the information that she had gathered over to the conference room, and I started up my laptop, so as to get a live weather update.
We soon had a lot of information up on the white board, for a clearer view, and on the wall is a topographical map of the region, with the station boundary clearly marked. We heard a plane fly over us quite low, and the Fire officer picked up his HF radio “Coral Coast Fire Control to Water bombers, over” we heard him say.
“Bomber received, we have just made our first drop, where do we refill over” came a response.
“Fixed wing will need to land on the single airstrip closest to the homestead, where fire water tanks will refill you, choppers can refill from the ocean, over” the fire officer said.
”Understood, over” came a reply from the pilot.
“Mobile 2 to base over” a call came over the uhf radio, and I grabbed the mic.
“Receiving you Matt, what do you have to report, over?” I replied.
“The wind has changed again, it is now a south easterly, and has picked up speed some more, over” Matt said to me,
“Messaged receive thanks Matt, how are things going with bomber refills, over” I responded.
“All good, as far as I know, there are two, fixed wing, one has just taken off, the other is about to land, we need more water tanks, to keep up with the demand, over” Matt said.
I thought about this problem a bit more, “ I am going to send Dave over to take over from you, I need you here, over” I said, and I turned to Dave.
“The turnoff to the airstrip is just 250 metres on the left from here, on the main driveway, heading towards the main gate, with fire units going in and out now, you shouldn’t miss it, take a steel picket and hammer and something to mark the turnoff, and help to coordinate the refilling of the aircraft” I said to Dave, who nodded his head and dashed out.
“He only just arrived on the station this afternoon, to be my new senior station hand, what a way to start the new job” I commented, which received a few chuckles. When Matt arrived a short time later, he was puffing, from running.
“You didn’t just run all the way from the airstrip did you?” I asked, and Matt blushed a little, “Good exercise boss” Matt replied.
“Ok, I presume that the water tanks behind the power shed have melted from all the heat?” I asked Matt, “I’m afraid so boss, it’s all just a pile of plastic now” Matt replied.
“Hmm, do we by any chance have any rolls of ½ inch poly pipe, and fittings for a distance of about 700 metres?” I asked, and after a few moments, Matt smiled.
“Brilliant, connect the pipe to the existing artesian bore, down near where the cottage used to be, and pump it directly to the airfield” Matt said, and I nodded my head.
“Grab a team of men, and start rolling out that pipe, you will need to dig a trench across the road, to stop vehicles driving over the pipe and damaging it” I said, and Matt dashed out the door.
It took less than twenty minutes to have the pipe rolled out, and connected up between rolls, and soon the water was flowing into one of the larger firefighting water tanks, and from there being pumped directly into the planes water tanks, reducing the time to refill with water, by 2/3rds.
The Fire officer had just finished a call on his phone soon after Matt had left. “We have a truck with Av Gas on is way up from Carnarvon Airport, and will be here in about two hours, now do you have enough food supplies to feed us all and is there anywhere we can camp” the fire officer asked.
Which reminded me that the second tour group was already on its way north and was due to arrive tomorrow afternoon, so I pulled out my phone and dialled a number. “This is a Lloyd Templeton at Coral Coast Station, we have a Fire emergency on our station, and the roads north from Minilya are closed to all traffic.
I suggest that you adjust your bus itinerary for the remainder of the trip, we will let you know when the roads and the station are open again” I said before ending the call, and I looked at the Fire Officer.
“Sorry, I had a bus load from a tour group arriving tomorrow afternoon, and I needed to let them know not to travel north past Carnarvon” I explained to him, and he nodded his head.
After a few moments, I remembered the officer’s earlier question, “Oh and if need be, we can ask the Roadhouse for assistance with food and drink supplies, but we should be fine, as we still have plenty left over in freezers, from the cyclone, and for accommodation, we have a 40 bed backpackers hostel located 4 kms south of here, with a good gravel road for access” I said.
“Good, Jim and I will need to be a lot closer to here if that is possible” Mike Ashby said.
“Yes sir, we have a couple of swags, and you can both crash in the spare bedroom of my apartment, which is at the end of this hallway, with the door marked Private. Help yourself to anything in the fridge, and don’t forget that Angus lives with me too” I replied. Mike was about to ask who Angus is, when he remembered my dog.
“Yes I remember now” Mike replied smiling.
I poked my head into my office, where I found Sue in my office chair, with Angus on her lap. “Sorry, I think he was getting worried about you, with all this activity happening” Sue said to me softly, and Angus lifted his head and yapped once then laid down to snooze again.
“Traitor” I grumbled as I headed back to the conference room, and Sue was chuckling at my comment, then I turned around and walked back into the office.
“Sue, can you please see if you can find Rebecca and…”.
“I am right here” Rebecca said interrupting me. “Oh good, can you and Sue go down to the backpackers, and make sure that everything is in order, so we can accommodate and feed all of the fight fighters.
The two senior fire officers, will be staying here at the base, take any food that you can carry with you, from the freezers at the back of the visitors centre, which is a stock pile left over from our cyclone emergency, maybe you could ask some lads to help you load one of the freezers onto the back of the station ute, and get them to follow you down, and unload it into the backpackers hostel” I suggested, and I walked out to the visitors centre, which was still full of volunteers.
“If I can have your attention please…. The station has a 40-bed backpacker’s hostel, located 4 kilometres south of here, with a good quality gravel road leading to it, all meals will be served from there from now on, and beds are available for those who wish to stay on, until the emergency is over.
If you are needed in a hurry, we will be in contact with Sue and Rebecca via Satellite phone, as they will be coordinating food and accommodation for you down there” I announced, and soon people began to file out of the building.
In the end, two freezers were carted down to the backpacker’s, and Sue reported back that everything was organised down there, which I was pleased about, and back in the conference room, we began to organisethe volunteers into teams, using the list of volunteers, that Mike Ashby had gathered, so as to not wear everyone out all at once, and we soon began to make progress on fighting the fire, which was now mostly out from where it started, including the generator shed, all the way to Elle’s Beach, with the fire still burning north of there.
Teams were now working on mopping up where the fire had already burnt, and the water bombers were continuing to bomb the fire from the air, and the fire was now north of Maggie’s beach, over 8 kms away.
“Water bomber to Fire control, over” a call came over the HF radio.
“Just letting you know that the wind has changed again, and it has swung around to the East, so it is pushing the fire back towards the ocean, over” we heard, and Mike smiled.
“That is good news, concentrate on bombing just east of the fire, to stop it trying to move east if the wind changes, and also at the north end if possible, over” Mike replied.
“Right, let’s get fire crews out to keep mopping up and see if we can stop the fire from going any direction except to the ocean” I said, as I picked up the phone and dialled the Sat one number for the Southern Caretaker.
“Rebecca speaking” she said when she answered the call, “Lloyd here, send one more team to assist with mopping up, the wind has changed to an easterly, so we may have it under control soon” I replied.
“Yes boss, right away” Rebecca responded before ending the call, and fifteen minutes later two more vehicles arrived from the direction of the backpackers, and Mike Ashby went out to give them instructions.
As the sun was setting, the water bombers, landed on the airstrip, as they could do no more with the failing light, with the truck load of Av Gas arriving just twenty minutes earlier. As darkness fell, Mike Ashby had all crews begin mopping up, as the fire had now slowed due to the lack of dry grass and shrubs available, and two hours later, all but two crew were ordered to stand down and rest, returning to three-hour shifts, to monitor what is left of the fire.
By the water bomber pilot’s descriptions, the fire had gone as far as Pelican point to the north, and although it had crossed over the station track near Maggie’s Beach, it hadn’t gone more than 400 metres east of the track, before the wind had changed, allowing for the east side of the fire to be doused with water from the planes.
As soon as it was day break the next morning, the two planes were filled up and after doing a close inspection of the fire, both planes headed South for Geraldton, where they would remain on standby. The fire was now officially out, only smouldering in some places, where small trees had some of its trucks not fully out, but all of them were in an area that had been thoroughly burnt and would not cause any risk of reigniting.
At breakfast, with the current two teams that were on patrol, had come in for a meal, Mike Ashby called a meeting of all the volunteers and station staff, in the outdoor area of the backpackers.
“Good morning, as of 7am today, I have called the fire as officially out, and on behalf of Parks and Wildlife and the WA Fire Service, I wish to thank you all for your volunteer effort, to get this fire under control, and extinguished. I have spoken to Mr Templeton not long ago, and he also thanks everyone for their help, on what could have been a far worse fire, if we didn’t have a favourable wind change.
Regarding the matter yesterday afternoon, with the call to retreat because of worsening conditions, all I can ask is that you listen to those who know the country best, and do as they ask, when they ask. Because of that fast action, we are very lucky to not have lost 4 vehicles and a dozen people with that incident.
I have had a call from WA police, who inform me that the suspected culprits, who started this fire are in custody, and are known by the police. Thankyou once again, you may now finish you breakfast and head back to your homes or work places” Mike Ashby announced.
Within an hour, there was just Mike Ashby, Jim Overton, Dave, Troy, Chris and the Price brothers remaining, with Anne returning to the office, to monitor things from there. “What is the distance from where the fire stopped and where it started?” Mike asked me, “well it stopped at Pelican Point, which is a good 13 kms away, so I am guessing that we have a burnt area of approximately 10 square kms, or 2,400 acres” I replied.
With East approaching next weekend, that is going to reduce our number of visitors dramatically” Matt added, and I nodded my head in agreement to that. “We will only have about half of the camp sites available in the north, which will be about 20 camping sites, plus the other 20 in the south” I stated, as I walked out of the conference room, and into my office.
“Anne, can you please jump onto our website, and make an announcement, something like – Due to a wild bush fire this past week, camping sites will be dramatically reduced, in the northern section of the station, with Maggie’s Beach, Elle’s Beach, Steven’s Surf Break and Wedding Hill closed to all station visitors.
Vehicle access south of Sandy Point, and north of the homestead is closed to all traffic” I asked, and Anne was scribbling down everything that I had said and repeated it back to me.
Back in the conference room, there was 2 new faces in the room, a police officer in uniform, and another man. “Mr Templeton, I am Sergeant William Holmes, from Carnarvon Police, we spoken on the phone before, and this is Detective Sergeant Adam Sherlock, from the Arson Squad in Perth” the officer said, and I shook their hands, smiling when I realised that the two surnames, made up the name of a famous detective, in Victorian times in London.
Copyright April 2019 Preston Wigglesworth All Rights Reserved