KOMATSU PEOPLE HELPING OUT WITH OUR HORROR BUSHFIRE SEASON
Throughout the summer of 2019-2020, Australia’s bushfires have been more intense and widespread than ever-before experienced.
As fires intensified, scenes have been described as “apocalyptic”, turning daytime skies orange, red and black.
Many people lost their lives, up to a billion native animals killed, hundred of homes, businesses and properties destroyed or badly damaged, and burnt out close to 200,000 square kilometres.
Over what is usually our peak holiday season, thousands of residents and tourists were forced to flee or take shelter as flames ravaged towns.
With some people stranded for days, and with shortages of food and fuel, the military deployed ships and aircrafts to bring supplies and evacuate people from fire-devastated coastal towns.
Komatsu employees throughout Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia volunteered their time during these tough days to support their local communities.
A number of them have told us their stories for this special report.
Warrick Benton, Field Service Technician, Wodonga, Victoria
“On December 1, 2019, our CFA (Country Fire Authority) brigade’s fire season started. I was asked to send our tanker to the Braidwood fire in NSW. We crewed our truck for 10 days between Braidwood and Bateman’s Bay.
CFA members from our neighbouring brigades then crewed our tanker up until Christmas Eve, when American fire fighters took over and were sent to the Macedon Ranges training camp.
The Wyoming Thunder Basin Grassland firefighters have also crewed our tanker up since then, working on the Gippsland fire in and around Omeo in Victoria.
With our tanker out of our region, we managed to get a loan tanker for our brigade.
We were involved in the Corryong and Abbeyard fires, which started from lighting on New Year’s Eve.
From New Year’s Day until early February, I have sent our members away to several strike teams on these fires, building containment lines, asset protection and backburning operations.
Komatsu has been supportive in allowing me to take leave and conduct this work for the communities affected by these fires.
Now back at work. I have been involved supporting earthmoving contractors working for Forest Fire Management Victoria removing dangerous trees, clearing roads and strengthening containment lines.
Mark Walshe, Sales Account Manager Construction, Gippsland, Victoria
I was part of one of the first strike teams from the Victorian CFA to head to the Blue Mountains fire west of Sydney. At the time we were deployed, the next day was expected to be a catastrophic fire day.
I drove Longwarry Tanker (from central Gippsland, Vic) to Goulburn NSW. We stayed at Goulburn Police Academy the night, then headed up to the Blue Mountains for the catastrophic day.
Once we got to Richmond Air Force base, we were deployed immediately to Colo Heights in the Hawkesbury region, on the Putty Road, which is on the way to Singleton.
The fire was at this stage 54,000 ha (when listed as “contained” in January, it was more than 512,000 ha). Our task was to build containment lines and backburn to protect the town of Colo Heights and surrounding towns. One of the main objectives, was to contain the fire from jumping Putty Road.
Unfortunately, due to conditions, we were unable to prevent this; however, we did save numerous homes and properties up the hill. The biggest challenge was terrain and inaccessibility, together with the ferocity of the main fire creating spot fires over our containment lines.
For example, our first day we spent over 14 hours building man-made containment lines with rake hoes and hand tools, only to come back the next day and find the fire had jumped.
It was interesting working with the aircraft and having the big air tanker dropping retardant just metres from our location.
Locally, we started 2020 with 10 fires (primary and support) in our area, in the first 10 days. This ranged from grass and bushfires, to house and hay shed fires.
The brigade I volunteer for is Trafalgar (my home town), located in Central Gippsland. We have had crews on rotation out to East Gippsland in the Omeo and Bendoc region, battling the big Victorian fires.
I spent one week on the northern edge of the East Gippsland fire, with the CFA; backburning and building containment lines alongside a contractor who is a Komatsu customer, D&L High Country.
Our task was to get on top of the fire before it reached Bonang, Bendoc and then cross the border to impact Delegate and Bombala.
Frank Allan, Operator Trainer, Campbellfield, Victoria
I have been a volunteer member of the Victorian CFA for 29 years; 14 years at Panton Hill and for the last 15 years at Kinglake West. Both are located in the hills north east of Melbourne. I am currently the Captain at Kinglake West.
The Kinglake West area was heavily impacted by the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009.
While the name indicates a single day, the actual fires in this area went for over five weeks. Unfortunately, myself and my crew became trapped at a house and experienced the full impact of the Black Saturday fires. Fortunately, both the residents and crew survived. Not an experience I wish to repeat anytime soon.
Recently I have been involved with fighting the fires in northern NSW in November and on north east Victoria at Corryong.
Things I’ve learnt from my time in the CFA:
- Constantly monitor your surroundings. If something isn’t working, be prepared to change what you are doing.
- The value of teamwork. That’s probably what makes the volunteer firefighters so valuable. We all come from different walks of life, have a wide range of skills and experience.
- The value of communication. During the Black Saturday fires our communications systems failed badly. Despite spending a lot of money, the new systems aren’t a lot better; during the recent fires, we had to revert to UHF and mobile phones.
Peter Beveridge, National Quality Assurance Manager, Rutherford, NSW
I am President of Millfield Rural Fire Service (RFS) in the NSW Hunter Valley. We spent from mid-November through to mid-January fighting large bushfires and protecting our local communities of Wollombi, Ellalong, Paxton, Millfield, North Rothbury and Greta.
Our longest consecutive stint was 18 days straight of 12-hour days.
We’re proud to say we didn’t lose any houses and don’t have any out of control fires in our area as of early February.
Troy Bowen, Service Supervisor, Emerald, Central Queensland
Myself and four other auxiliary fire fighters from the Emerald station, along with other crews from our neighbouring stations within our command area, were deployed to Yeppoon with several appliances to assist with the containment and structural protection of houses and equipment.
Firefighting efforts continued for several long days and nights straight. Due to the fire conditions at the time we got sent back to our areas.
A short time, later myself and a crew of three fire fighters from Emerald, along with one of our appliances, were deployed to the Lowmead fire at Bundaberg to assist with containment structural protection. This deployment was for five days.
Both fires were difficult to contain, due to the weather conditions and accessibility into these areas. Both fires were fuelled by strong winds and large fuel loads, making them difficult to contain. Structural protection in these conditions was very challenging and, in some case, very dangerous.