It had to happen sooner or later. A firebug has returned to the island.
The first grass fire started at about 9.45pm, just after we had returned home from the Friday night dinner at the Boat Club. Tumbling into our yellows, we got to the station just in time to catch a ride on 61, our largest fire truck.
Driving up High Central Road, I was wondering what the night would bring. It was my first actual uncontrolled fire. I had attended several controlled burns, had checked on fires lit by people which neighbours had complained about, a vehicle smash and several ambo calls but this was a first. How would I react to a fire burning out of control? There was only one way to find out.
We turned into Baramundi Street and there it was on the corner. Just a tiny little fire about 5 metres square and certainly not out of control. Jumping out of the cab, Guy and Jamie used the two Case 1 hoses to douse the flames. A case 1 hose is the smallest we use, permanently attached to the truck by reels at the back. What did I do? Not much ... just backed Guy up on the hose, standing behind him helping the hose through the bush.
Within half an hour it was all out and we returned, first to the station and then back home. The adrenalin rush faded and suddenly I was extremely tired. It had to be bedtime. A quick shower and then an early night, for Saturday was a big day. Guy was photographing an island wedding, starting at 9.30am and I was back to the Fire Brigade, as there was a large controlled burn on the books. This was a privately owned 10 acre block, very close to the grass fire we had just attended.
When you're tired, it takes you a while to realise that the ringing in your ears isn't tinnitus, it's the fire brigade pager going off. Yes, again! But now it's 1.45am. Wearily, we climb out of bed and back into the yellows. I'm not quite so keen this time and neither of us speaks as we make our way downstairs and pull on our boots. Grabbing our gloves, goggles and helmet, we drive up the street in silence.
This time we must have taken a little longer because the truck had left the station. (I swear some of the firies sleep in their uniforms because we are only a few hundred metres from the station.)
The address of the latest grass fire was given on our pagers so we drove up High Central Road again, this time to Wirralee Street, which is the street just before Baramundi. This was the block we were assigned to burn off at 8am on Saturday morning. Looked like we were getting an early start!!
This time the fire was very impressive, reaching several metres into the air and spreading rapidly through the dry tinder of the undergrowth. Luckily, the owner of the block had cleared fire breaks all along the edges of his block. Otherwise the houses which clung to the sides of the block would have been in much greater danger than they were. The occupants were all out on the street, huddled in groups and watching the flames with apprehension. For once, the firies were welcomed with open arms, even by the greenies who hate to see us burn any bush, no matter how dangerous.
This time I found myself minding the pump. Not exactly the most exciting job. You stand there and watch the man with the hose. When he raises his arm, you turn on the water. When he signals stop, you close it off. Woohoo!
But I should have been grateful for that break because within half an hour, we were moving down the street to keep up with the fire. This meant finding another hydrant to fill the truck up with water. The hydrant sign was easy to spot and we walked over to the edge of the road to check it out. Well, there was the sign but where was the hydrant? The hydrant cover is usually a metre in front of the post so I dug around in the dirt with the hydrant tool until I felt metal. Then it was back to the truck for a shovel and twenty minutes of serious digging before we could lift the plate and get the hydrant stand in place. Hooking up the hoses was easy in comparison and we soon had water streaming up to the firies at the front.
Around this stage, it was decided we might as well start backburning to prevent the fire getting out of control near the houses. And we might as well let the whole block burn, saving us from coming back in the morning to do the controlled burn we had promised.
Drip torches were lit and taken up to the brush to light the edges. The wind then burns the flames back into the centre, causing an updraft which sucks the flames in rather than spreading them out. Wonderful to watch!!
Which is what I did, once again relegated to the pump. Darn! I wanted to get up there with a hose!!
And so the night progressed. We moved the truck from place to place, set up the hydrant, connected the hoses and directed the water flow. And manned the pump.
Once things were under control, Helen and I were given a break and allowed up near the flames to check out the fire. I wish I'd taken a camera. It was quite spectacular. The flames would start about one metre high until they caught a banksia tree and then cartwheels of fire would appear as the banksia cones burst into sparks.
We spotted a 7' carpet snake desperately climbing a tiny gum sapling to avoid the heat of the forest floor. It was no longer than he was but he managed to curl his way around the branches, as they dipped and swayed under his weight. He seemed fine so we left him to his shaky perch.
The night progressed, smokily. We spent ages gazing up at the errant sparks which drifted across into neighbouring yards. So easy for one small spark to start a conflagration! But luckily, the wind was kind and nothing happened.
Eventually, it was time to clear up. That's the hard part. Making up hoses. Yuk!!! First of all,you have to carry metres and metres of canvas hose and duraline (rubber) hose back to the truck, emptying them of water as you go. Then you have to roll them up. PROPERLY!!! None of this "near enough is good enough" for the Rural Fire Brigade!!
The last straw was the 64 hose attached to the last hydrant. It was full of water and lying uphill when I found it. The others were elsewhere, bringing in other hoses, so it was up to me to empty this monster and have it ready to roll when they returned.
Getting the water out entailed having the two ends facing downhill so I had to drag them. Aaaaah, my shoulders sag at the memory. I would not have believed anything could be so heavy, so difficult to handle and so muddy!!! There were moments when I was sure I wouldn't get it done. But eventually there it was, lying in the road, ready for my partner to help me roll it up.
The joy of that last completed hose roll. Back screaming from all the bending, shoulders screaming from the lifting, legs just plain cramped. Ah! What luxury to sink back into the truck and announce "Firecom Brisbane, this is Macleay Island 61. We are Code 4."
Finished and going home, with the dawn rising over Stradbroke as we drove down the road.