This article was first published in “Firefighters. Stories from Australian foresters”, published by York Gum Publishing in 2014, and edited by Roger Underwood and Oliver Raymond. ISBN 978-0-9942271-0-2. The original title of the article was “Bushfires and Fish – an Unlikely Combination” Author: Oliver Raymond.
It was a glorious early autumn in 1964. The dry weather had produced perfect conditions for a large wildfire to start in the headwaters of Victoria’s Jamieson River. It had been sparked off from a carelessly abandoned campfire during an annual field exercise being carried out by the Citizens’ Military Forces.
As part of the Victorian Forests Commission’s North Eastern Forest Division’s remote fire fighting crew, I had been sent with my crew to the most distant part of the fire to help in its containment. It had been threatening to burn the Alpine Ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis) forests in the headwaters of the Jamieson, and we had to build a firebreak to stop it.
Because of the cool, moist nights, the fire had been largely going out of its own accord during the hours of darkness. However, once the heat of each morning’s sun and the inevitable pick up in the wind hit the smouldering edges of the fire it soon took off again.
This article is based upon a conversation between Bernie and Richard Rawson in August 2018, and it is likely that it describes the first ever use of such a large helicopter in a wildfire control operation.
On the 17 February 1983, at the same time as the State was in terrible strife from the fires of 16 February (Ash Wednesday), a fire started in what was then the FCV District of Myrtleford, where Bernie Evans was the District Forester and, the way things worked at that time, he was also by right the "fire boss".
Transcribed from Jim’s notes and as related to Malcolm McKinty
Following his graduation from the VSF in 1936 and until December 1941 Jim was attached to the Commission’s Forest Assessment Branch.
In November 1938, Bjarne Dahl, Jim (then 23 years old) and their chainman (Fred) travelled by train to Healesville then by car to Sylvia Creek near Toolangi. There they loaded their equipment onto packhorses lead by Bill O’Connell and trekked over the hills to the Murrindindi River where they set up camp. The task was to map a large section of the Victoria Range between the Yea and Acheron Rivers, progressing south along the range towards Mount St Leonard. Dense scrub here made heavy going and they took turns with slashers to clear the survey lines.
The fire raged and roared above us as we retreated along the tunnel, with only a wet blanket between us and the fiery intruder invading our camp. Smoke poured in and we were, for the time being, trapped and in darkness.
It all happened more than sixty years ago, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. The year was 1952. I was a newly graduated forester, 21 years old, and engaged in resource assessment and the mapping of the upper Sandy's Creek catchment, about 40 km north of Bairnsdale in eastern Victoria. The team consisted of three foresters (Peter Britton, Len Laing and me) and five chainmen. Our camp was positioned on the end of a short track off the Mt Baldhead Road, which followed along the divide between the south-flowing Wentworth and Nicholson Rivers. The track ;to our camp had been constructed by gold miners many years ago, and it wound down off the ridge to a spot where a horizontal tunnel been driven deep into the hillside. Our mess hut was placed next to the tunnel entrance to take advantage of a stream of clear, cold water flowing from it. To emphasise the temperature of the water, we called the camp 'Coool Waters'.
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I have often joked over the years that there are three sorts of firefighters in rural Victoria;