Behind the scenes of a bushfire

BUSHFIRE season is a reminder of the invaluable and tireless efforts fire-fighters provide to communities under threat.

Behind the scenes, professionals co-ordinate every aspect of the fight to control the blazes which threaten homes, livelihoods and lives.

This co-ordination occurs at the Horsham incident control centre, where the team grows or shrinks according to the level of bushfire risk and threat in the Wimmera and Grampians.

Incident controller Dale Russell took the Mail-Times on a tour of the centre to explain in detail the different aspects of fighting fires.

Within the operations sphere, air operations manager Lee Gleeson oversees the management and dispatch of aerial fire-fighting resources.

This bushfire season is the first time new technology has been in full operation for fighting fires from the air.

Cameras are operated from fire-fighting aircraft with the footage streamed live to Mr Gleeson’s computer to gather information about the success of aerial operations, the status of the fire and damage assessments for GWMWater and other organisations.

Mr Russell said the control centre worked in tandem with resources on the ground to fight the fire in the most effective and efficient way.

“For the fire-fighters out there that’s one thing and they all do a marvellous job, no doubt about it, but there’s also a support arrangement to make sure they’re looked after and tasked appropriately – right place, right time, for example if we need aircraft – Lee gets it,” he said.

The public information team deals with warnings and advice which are distributed through the media. 

They also act as a link between people seeking fire information and the control centre.

The planning department deals with mapping of fires, strategy and situation reports. It shrinks in size when fires become less critical and urgent.

The logistics team is a crucial support arm with a range of functions. 

They feed hundreds of fire-fighters and other support staff during the height of the fire.

“We’ve provided accommodation for about 500 people here in the recent fire,” Mr Russell said.

The emergency management team encapsulates the various groups needed during and after a fire, such as GWMWater, Telstra, Powercor, council, government departments and health care groups.

“It’s been running really, really well; there has been great co-operation from all the services,” Mr Russell said.

Operations manager Mal Gibson has been at the front in the past few days and has brought back vital intelligence to fight the fire, still burning through the northern Grampians.

“Basically we’ve got cruiser machines that are clearing hazardous trees from the side of the road, trying to get the roads reopened,” Mr Gibson said.

So far, control lines have held and Mr Gibson has been using heat-seeking technology to get in and attack hot spots near the perimeter of the containment lines.

The control centre team will continue to remain vigilant in the coming days, with dry lightning and scorching heat predicted for the region.

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