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Notes from the fire front

“What sticks in my mind from this fire? Fear– that was controlled by training and a trust in my fellow crew members. We were alone in the middle of a running fire with a task to complete as best we could, but we knew each had the other’s back. The sight of a large roo sitting in the middle of the dam near the house is etched into my mind reflecting the ferocity of the fire.”

Sutton RFS member.

January 17 and 18 will stay in the memory of a lot of people in  western Palerang and further west, as grass fires raced erratically through the Tarago, Mt Fairy, Boro region and to the west between Sutton and Mulligans Flat – fanned by high temperatures and high winds suddenly rated ‘extreme’.

On Hazeldell Road, Mt Fairy, tragedy struck one man – the unexpected fire destroyed the home and irreplaceable memorabilia of Bungendore businessman Richard Graham.

Yet, nearby Mulloon Creek free-range chicken farm luckily lost only a handful of some 20,000 birds that sheltered in moveable sheds with faithful guard dogs.

In both fire areas, many stock animals and wildlife lost their lives, and affected property owners lost (as well as the animals) fencing, sheds, pasture and faced sudden fight or flight.

The heat hit 37 degrees by midday and the wind blew 50 – 80 km per hour on the 17th and remained as bad on the 18th when the Mulligans Flat fire broke out.

That fire burned 524 hectares and drew some 158 fire fighters plus eight aircraft, including a Large Air Tanker. 135 regional firefighters battled at Tarago/Mt Fairy aided by seven aircraft. The fire eventually burned more than 3000 hectares.

Both fires are still subject to speculation and investigation. The Mulligans Flat fire is officially labelled suspicious, while the Tarago/Mt Fairy fire has been attributed to a crow catching fire after hitting high voltage wires near a neighbouring windfarm.

While people in Bywong and Wamboin scrambled for their fire plans with mobile alerts, some others at the Mt Fairy fire reported getting no mobile alerts– the lack of mobile coverage familiar to all country people (and that the Boro Mt Fairy RFS has warned about for years). Personal visits from RFS crews saved the day.

Fire authorities warn risk of grass fires greater than ever this month: remember grass fires can start from any machinery that gets hot and/or makes sparks. This includes tractors, mowers, vehicles and motor bikes, slashers, harvesters, welders, chainsaws and grinders on hot days.

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