The progress toward containment remains slow, because the areas first need to be assessed and tree hazard removed, and because of the steep slopes there is a need to look at the trees (a long way above where the crews are planning to work) as there is a potential for the trees to fall, and then slide down the hill.
To gain access, the crews need to cut lines through the fallen trees and cut bench tracking into the hillsides before they can start patrolling for hot spots, of which there are still quite a few.
In the meantime heavy helicopters work to stop the smouldering hotspots from flaring up (until the crews are able to get to them).
Photo: Southland crew clear access and start benching.
Access to this area is via ridgelines down into steep valleys. This means after a long drive into the fire ground there is a long walk down into the valleys, made even slower by access (requiring trees to be assessed along the way, and removed if there is a risk they may fall).
Photo: Well resourced
Aircraft are effective at holding a fire but these large helicopters have been on this fire for a few weeks, which demonstrates how ineffective they are at putting out the last smouldering remains of the fire, which is required to prevent the fire from flaring up at a later stage.
You may recall in the last newsletter there was prediction of a spike day for Wednesday, 13 January.
Preparations for this possible event were extensive across the state, with, some parks closed, crews on standby, and around 50 aircraft prepositioned around the state, as well as regional co-ordination centres being manned to manage incidents if and when they arrived.
Even the police were focussed on fire for the day, monitoring known/suspected arsonists and problem areas.
The Emergency Management Commissioner summed it up well at the start of the day during the teleconference/briefing when he said “don’t under estimate our initial attack capability”. In other words don’t muck around, get in there and hit the fires before they take hold.
It was clear from the forecast there were going to be new fires to attack, but it was not clear where or when they were going to occur.
Not much happened during Wednesday morning, but in the afternoon things became quite active, with temperatures into the early 40s, winds of 30-40km, low humidity, as well as thunderstorms (both wet and dry). Over a period of a couple of hours there were around 30 new fires started.
For the crews on the Wye River - Jameson Track fire (both NZ Taskforces) the spike day meant the plan was to stay by the tracks, so they had escape routes. However, even this plan changed when a thunderstorm came to the fire-ground bringing gusts reported to be above 100km per hour.
With the high winds approaching, the crews withdrew from the forest. The work from the previous days paid off as the fire was held within its boundaries, with only one hotspot, which tried to break out but was held by the aircraft.
Meanwhile, another thunderstorm came to visit the base camp. Buses were parked across the upwind side of the camp in an attempt to provide some shelter, but the wind still managed to knock down and damage about 90 tents. Fortunately, there was plenty of time for new tents to be put up before nightfall.
Photo: Tent damage from thunder storm.
The National Rural Fire Officer, Kevin O’Conner visited the emergency co-ordination centre and also caught up with Taskforce Bravo on the fire-ground, as well as Taskforce Alpha while they were on R&R.
Photo: That’s ginger beer on the tables.
The Wye River – Jamieson Track fire which destroyed 116 houses on Christmas day is still going and is predicted to burn for a number of weeks.
The Cann River – Point Hicks Road fire has been quiet and is being tracked in difficult terrain.
Media messages were sent about smoke from Tasmanian fires drifting across southern Victoria to inform community members concerned about smoke across Victoria.
New fires that started today have been brought quickly under control.