Sunday afternoon, 12th January 2020. Just imagine this scene: a steep wall of forest dropping sharply to the river opposite the terraced lawns of the Blue Duck Hotel.
The Blue Duck Inn is a 100 year old hotel with six lodges on terraced grassy banks leading down to the river, directly opposite a very steep hill. After a severe fire attack a few days before, this hill needed to be secured.
Part of the USTF Force – Strike Team 1199 had been here twice before in week prior – see “good news delivered” note at the end of this story.
As a weather window opened up, the US team revisited the burn the plan with the DELWP SECCOMM, and the joint decision was made to aggressively burn the face, thus securing this and the houses along the hilltop which had just survived a few a days ago. What was unique to all CFA, DELWP and US crews was that this event could be viewed from the lawns opposite, as if the viewers were all in theatre seats watching a giant IMAX screen.
As this developed across the late afternoon, a steady number of members from the line were having their dinner meal break. They all sat on the lawn, along with the locals on the pub veranda overlooking this scene together.
What they witnessed were the US teams, then increasingly incorporating the CFA Tanker drivers working their way down the hill, building hand trails, managing hazardous trees, and building hand trails up to the dozer trail. Complimenting this were two Helitaks working in unison dampening each breakout threatening the vital ridge line.
In vital background work, DELWP units, SOU’s and the rest of ST 1199 USTF Tankers were each strategically placed in a ring on the hills around and opposite to suppress any spotting.This took up the whole afternoon until last light.
What I saw was CFA working with the US members seamlessly. Our CFA firefighters were being coached first on hand trail construction, then actively mentored in strip burning of the four-foot scrub which covered the hill face. The US firefighters used this controlled opportunity to coach and mentor our CFA embedded members.
Here’s an excerpt from US LO Steve Miller’s description of the event:
Yesterday we were asked to escort a photojournalist around the fire. Around midday one of the Strike Teams I support got relocated to Anglers Rest, where we had been a week ago. The fire was coming over a ridge on the slope opposite the Blue Duck Inn. There were Country Fire Authority and Forest Fire Management Victoria already on scene. Our engines (Queenscliff and Bayswater) tied in to protect the resort. The engine captains, Clay Stephens and Dan Betts quickly recognised the best way to make the Blue Duck Inn safe was to burn out the ridge behind it to an existing dozer line. They got the blessing of the Sector Boss and proceeded to orchestrate an elaborate operation with an audience safely ensconced on the green lawn of the Blue Duck Inn. It was magical seeing everyone working together to make this happen. The resort owner and neighbours were thrilled, and our photojournalist had the type of day Babe Ruth did when he called the shot.
This display honoured what every firefighter is obligated to do, pass their experience onto the next generation, which in this case directly strengthened CFA experience and expertise. I’ve been in our CFA for a long time and have never seen such a tremendous practical display of humble inclusive professionalism – from everyone. All this was witnessed and documented by an American photo-journalist who was fortunately embedded with us for the day.
I know this was just a little bit, of a bigger bit, of one valley, in one fire of many fires. I know this experience sharing is happening across every fire in this whole National Bushfire crisis – strengthening us all for the future.
Good news delivered – 6 Jan – true community connection During engagement at Angler Rest, in casual conversation with a passing driver, “who was returning to his destroyed home”. The US members in fact remembered the property, which they had assessed yesterday, then supplied photos, which informed the motorist that his house was in fact SAVED. A very very happy moment.