Fire-fighting Ringer style

Host: Abingdon Downs Station
Written by Renee Kohler – Staff, Abingdon Downs.

Renee has been employed nearly 11 years and is the wife of Head Stockman/Manager Jason Kohler.

With the end of the year approaching so is the fire season. We aim to burn some of our country before first storms to get good grass growth through the wet season, however we generally get beaten by human error through machinery or by lightening.

On the first sign of smoke our boss Campbell has the chopper fired up and in the air determining whether or not we need to jump into the role of fire men and women. Once we get word from Campbell that we need to fight it we are in a frenzy of loading the firefighting unit onto a Toyota and filling it up with water, then the spray tank on a four wheeler, the burning unit on a four wheeler and filling with a mix of petrol and diesel. Then we’ve got another vehicle with a pump and pipes and extra fuel and some tucker for us. Plus the old grader gets a rude wakeup call and gets greased and oiled ready to go. Then it’s just a matter of everyone getting in or on something and heading out to the fire.

2.1. First sign of fire copyFirst sign of fire.

2.2 Making the way out to the fire copyMaking the way out to the fire.

Once we get to where we need to be the grader takes the lead to widen existing roads or make a new road or firebreak. Once the grader has a big enough lead ahead the burning bike follows lighting up the road side that is the same side as the existing fire. The aim of backburning is to send the new fire towards the existing fire so they eventually meet and burn themselves out.  A little further behind the burning bike is the water bike which sprays any flames still burning at the edge of the road where it was lit up (once it’s headed away from the road a little bit) to stop any chances of wind carrying fire across the road and also to wet any trees close to the road that look as though they could cause trouble.  Behind the water bike follows the vehicle with the big water tank and pressure hose to tackle the big stuff like putting out trees, logs, cow poo, and anything that could make an escape across the fire break. The vehicle behind has already been to set up the water pump in a dam to refill the water tank on the vehicle and goes about patrolling the burnt area.

2.3 Backburning- in the thick of it copyBackburning – in the thick of it.

Fighting fires is generally not an overnight ordeal, but sometimes we can be out for four or five days or more. There’s no shower, flushing toilet, cooked meals, or toothbrushes. If there’s a chance someone might have the opportunity to run back to the homestead to get a loaf of bread and a container of old frozen runny stew from six months ago we appreciate it! Or someone like me might make a really quick curry of all things that turns out to be hotter than the fire itself!! Sorry guys! As far as sleep is concerned you are lucky to have a power nap here or there. Scrunched up newspaper makes a pretty good make shift pillow or your boots. I can remember one time it got pretty cool at night and Campbell and Anita were curled up in one of the deep tyre tracks in the river crossing trying to stay warm at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to get a few minutes shut eye.

2.4 We're rather smelly and grubby after a few days. copyWe’re rather smelly and grubby after a few days.

It is never a smooth sailing exercise, there’s always something that goes a little pear shaped. I can remember one year we had two water bikes going and Campbell came over the radio from the chopper for the first bike to get back to the other bike as quick as possible as it was on fire. Then another time we thought we had the fire pretty well under control until the wind changed direction, then it got a little crazy. My husband Jason tried to grade a quick track in front of the flame but the flames were over the top of the grader and he got a little bit hot, however he did manage to control it. About an hour or so passed and we were getting near the river when over the radio comes “IT’S JUMPED” but this time Campbell gets in the grader, he did about two swipes and then was singing out to Jason to get back on. Jason and that old grader have a special connection (apparently the way you talk/yell at it determines how good she’ll work for you!) There was also another time when the fire got too hot for the bike that was back burning (had the firestarter on board) and the fuel drum on the back of the bike caught on fire.

2.5 When things go wrong.........Katrina, Klancie & Barry copyWhen things go wrong . . . Katrina, Klancie, and Barry.

I must say that I have never looked forward to fire fighting, but I do have many memories of that terrible loud crackling noise of fire coming your way, of fire balls jumping through the tree tops, of being so tired you think you just can’t go on but you still do, of your eyes being so sore and puffy from the smoke that you can hardly open them and they constantly water, of your teeth being so furry cause you haven’t seen a toothbrush in a week, of being so dirty and smelling like fire for the next month, of times when you look back and think geez that was way too close and how lucky we were. I’ve seen the total devastation that an early fire can cause, where everywhere you look is black and bare, and how you just cling to the hope that it will rain soon.

2.6 A moment's break while keeping an eye on the fire copyA moment’s break while keeping an eye out on the fire.

2.7 Blaze of fury copyA blaze of fury.

2.8 Burnt out plains copyBurnt out plains.