Mole Creek, firies’ HQ

Photo by David Claridge remote area fire crews getting ready for take off Mole Creek

Mole Creek, firies’ HQ

MARCH 2016 | David Claridge

MOLE CREEK is a popular place to visit for the caves and the Tassie Tiger Bar, but recently it has been home to a large number of firefighters from across the country who have put their lives on hold to combat the Lake Mackenzie fires.

Lightning strikes had sparked several fires in rugged terrain. And they were able to spread, with some even joining together and have burned around 25,000 hectares at the time this story is being written.

Now, almost two months into the incident, the fire is still active.

The Mole Creek Recreation Ground is being used as a base of operations for the fire effort. The football oval is a helicopter landing-pad and the adjacent ground is home to a sea of tents.

Forward Operations Officer, Michael Phillips, of the Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) was responsible for the base.

“It is not as simple as putting a dozer line in and getting a few tankers to put it out,” Mr Phillips said. “It is a pretty hard slog in rough, inaccessible country.”

“All of the firefighting agencies in Tasmania have been here – TFS, Parks and Wildlife, Forestry and contractors. (And), because of the sheer workload of fighting all these fires in Tasmania, we have had to call on our counterparts from the mainland,” he added. “We have had people from Parks and Wildlife, and the Rural Fire Service from New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory Parks, and Queensland Rural Fire Service.”

Michael Saunders of Kempsey Area, New South Wales, has come to Tasmania for the first time to work with a Remote Area Team (RAT).

“We have been into a couple of remote pads and worked on hot spots and done some water bombing operations,” Mr Saunders said.

On day five of his rotation, he is not long to return home for a break. However, “they are rotating people back through, (and he) would love to come back and help”.

“The National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales has done a fantastic job here in conjunction with the other inter-agency crews,” he shared.

RAT Teams are crucial to keep the fire at bay. Mostly helicoptered into isolated areas, they bring all the equipment they need with them, as it is a physically tough and demanding job.

I followed a team of RAT trained TFS Career Fire-fighters, and a New South Wales RAT Team who relied on local volunteer firefighters for water, as they travelled down a steep and dangerous feature to get to where they needed to work.

Staying with the volunteers I could not see how far away the team was but could see they were using water from the hooked up tankers on top of the hill to extinguish hotspots.

A helicopter came over to scout the area, likely called in to attack a troublesome area. It filled up at the nearby dam and returned, circling a zone before slowly coming down and dropping its load of water.

There is still a lot of work to be done.

The Fire Service wants to pass on that they are grateful for the support of the local businesses and the community itself.

David Claridge