The 1982/83 Fire Season

Richard Rawson, 2018  (bio)

This article is still being developed.

The 1982/83 fire season was almost certainly the worst forest fire season experienced by Forests Commission personnel since the fires of 1939.

It is best remembered for the fires of Ash Wednesday (16 Feb 1983), but significant fires occurred across the State from August 1982 until March 1983. On 8 January, at a fire near Greendale, two FCV staff members from the Trentaham District (AlanLynch and Des Collins???) were killed while operating a dozer to establish a fireline adjacent to the northern flank. ( Perhaps this is an opportunity to do more to recognise these people??

The first significant fire occurred in late August of 1982 in the Little Desert and the last, the second of two major fires near Cann River began on 4 March 1983, and during this period FCV personnel attended 878 fires which burnt a total of about 486 000 ha in the area for which the FCV had fire suppression responsibility.

The fire behaviour which was experienced on Ash Wednesday was beyond any previously recorded and way outside the bounds of what was predicted by the available methods at that time. Peter Billing (bio?) did some exceptional work in reconstructing the spread of the East Trentham/Macedon and Dean Marsh-Lorne fires and showed that spread rates were at times as high as about 10km/h within forested areas - two to three times what might have otherwise been predicted by the methods available at the time.

In 1981/82 the FCV first trialled the use of the MAFFS (explain) but this system was trialled and evaluated extensively in 1982/83 (Rawson and Rees, 1983, see gallery below) but shown to be ineffective. However, medium helicopters supplied by the NSCA ( a separate story here - maybe first used in 1981/82 but this was the real forerunner of medium helicopter use for firebombing - I know by about 1985/86 they were also being used for "helitack type crews" but Bryan Rees would be able to sum all this up far better than me) were effective because they were capable of rapid turn around times.

A crude line-scanner operated by the CSIRO was also used on a Victorian fire (for the first time or did we also try it in 1981/82). It scanned the Warbuton fire and helped determine, under a dense smoke layer, thet this fire had a massive unburnt area inside the anticipated control lines. By 1985/86 the NSCA were providing a better scanner operating from a Beechcraft King Air and it was used extensively in fires in NE Victoria (Kevin Ritchie, Bruce Dymond were key interpreters).

At this time there were changes under way in the Commissions approach to fire suppression. District Foresters were traditionally directly responsible for any fire in their District, but within Central Division a new way (Large Fire Organisation) was being introduced and it was probably the forerunner of the ICS? as we know it today.processes. (Rod Incoll here – Peter Ford here)

RAAF Hercules and the MAFFS in Operation, 1981/82 and 1982/83

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