CFA districts, helicopters fight Agnes scrub fire

• The contents of a helitanker’s bucket cascades down onto a scrub fire in
Barry Beach Road at Agnes on Wednesday January 11, 2023.

BRIGADES and appliances from three Gippsland Country Fire Authority districts, along with two helicopters, combined to fight a scrub fire that consumed an area of more than three hectares in Barry Beach Road at Agnes on Wednesday January 11, 2023.

A total of 55 CFA personnel attended the fireground, supported by 10 tankers, a big-fill tanker, two ultralight tankers, forward command and operations vehicles, and a rehabilitation unit from CFA Districts 8, 9 and 10.

A helitanker equipped with a water bucket and a fire-spotting helicopter were also dispatched from their base in the Latrobe Valley to assist.

The alarm was raised shortly before 2 pm after unexpected gusting easterly winds carried sparks from a planned-for burn-off on a property north of the Barry Beach Marine Terminal into neighbouring bushland.

The Welshpool CFA tanker was the first appliance to arrive at the scene at 2.05 pm, driven by Welshpool Brigade secretary Alan O’Neill who took on the role of Incident Controller, assisted by Fire Rescue Victoria Commander Julian Seri.

CFA South Gippsland Group Officer Walter Aich was responsible for mapping where the fire was and for communicating its progress from his base in the Inverloch CFA forward operations vehicle.

“The people who were conducting the burn-off had prepared for it by clearing the area around where the fire was lit, and thankfully they also had an excavator on hand,” Mr O’Neill said.

“Under normal circumstances the burn-off would have been fine, but unfortunately the wind came up and blew embers into the bush to the west of the property.”

Mr O’Neill said getting to some points of the fire was difficult because of the thick scrub however “the excavator came in handy to crash a path through on the west side and the Foster tanker managed to get ahead of it there.

“The firefighters on the ground were backed up by the helitanker, which could reach and finish off the more inaccessible areas of the fire,” he said.

“The ultralight tankers, being a lot lighter in weight, were able to go off-road into some parts of the scrub, with less chance of them getting bogged where the ground is still soft from all the rain we’ve had recently.”

Mr O’Neill said CFA personnel were involved in a range of tasks, including patrolling the boundary of the Marine Terminal, monitoring hot spots, and blacking out burnt areas after the flames had been extinguished.

CFA members also maintained a shuttle of tankers between the South Gippsland Water hydrant near the terminal entrance in Barry Beach Road to refill the other tankers and ultralights serving on and around the actual fireground.

The CFA brigades involved in combatting the Agnes scrub fire contributed personnel, appliances, or both towards the effort, while the Dumbalk CFA provided general oversight of the Gippsland area during the incident. 

The initial responders were relieved from about 7 pm on Wednesday evening by a second CFA strike team charged with extinguishing the patches of fire still alight in the bush and monitoring the remaining hot heaps overnight. 

A third shift of CFA volunteers took over from early on Thursday morning, January 12, watching for flare-ups and continuing to black out.

Among the CFA brigades taking part alongside Welshpool were Toora, Foster, Fish Creek, Yanakie, Meeniyan, Dumbalk, Berrys Creek, Woodside, Alberton West, Binginwarri, Jack River,  Port Albert, Leongatha, Nerrena, Ruby, Loch, Poowong, Allambee, and Thorpdale.

“It really was an awesome response to an urgent situation, and with a good outcome,” Mr O’Neill said.

“There was a fair bit of gear in action during the fire, and to see how well the CFA brigades and the organisation’s resources work together in such a coordinated way is impressive,” he said.

“The Welshpool CFA put on a supper at our Fire Station on Wednesday night to say thank you to the members of the other CFA brigades who had come to Agnes in support.”

The CFA South East Region Fire Danger Period (FDP), with restrictions on lighting  fires in the open, began in South Gippsland, Wellington and Baw Baw Shires and in Latrobe City on Monday January 16, 2023.

Written permits are now required to burn off any grass, undergrowth, weeds or other vegetation. Apply for a permit at www.firepermits.vic.gov.au

CFA brigades are always keen to welcome new members to help fill a wide range of roles from firefighting through to communications, equipment maintenance and administrative support.

For more information contact your local CFA brigade or see the Volunteers and Careers section on the CFA website at www.cfa.vic.gov.au