Fighting fire in dry


Oamaru firefighter Jason Dodds has seen first hand the devastating affects Australian bushfires can have on the landscape.
Mr Dodds, a member of the Waitaki Rural Fire Force, returned home on January 24 after helping fight the fires that caused huge destruction in the state of Victoria throughout January.
He was one of six firefighters from the Otago Rural Fire Authority sent to fight the blazes on January 2, alongside others from around the country.
Mr Dodds was deployed to the Great Otways National Park southwest of Melbourne, where he said conditions were particularly rugged for dry firefighting.
He and his team were responsible for locating and eliminating hot spots with the help of thermal imaging camera crews from the Country Fire Authority.
“It was pretty steep in some parts of it. “We were working on a 40-degree gradient at one point.
“It was all dry firefighting due to the lack of water they have over there. “They use hand tools, so we used rake hoes and pulaski, which is an axe with a grubber [blade] on it. What we were doing is putting in rake hoe lines around the outside [of the fire]. If the fire did get away, it would only get to that containment line and wouldn’t go any further.”Average temperatures at the fire ground were generally in the mid to late 20s. However, on the hottest day, a spike day when there was a heightened risk of fires, the temperature soared to 38degC.
Mr Dodds said spike days occurred when there were high temperatures and low humidity followed by a southwesterly change, which brought thunder and dry lightning.
The fires he and his fellow firefighters tackled were started last year by lightning strikes and were contained within a 12ha area by the Country Fire Authority.
However, they reignited on Christmas Day and quickly spread to Separation Creek and the Wye River, where 16 and 100 homes were lost respectively.
The fires resulted in the coastal township of Lorne, which was devastated by fires in 1983, being evacuated the same day.
Mr Dodds said fighting fires in such dry conditions was in stark contrast to the way the job was done in New Zealand.
“It’s a lot different from being here … we have the luxury of water _ the Australians don’t. They do have fire units they call slip-ons that carry 400 litres of water. They use that water very, very sparingly.”When not on the fireground, the firefighters were based an hour’s drive from the site at a camp at Berengarra.
They stayed in tents, while facilities such as the kitchen, showers and toilets were set up in 6m shipping containers.
Mr Dodds described his three-week stint in Australia as a “new experience”, but said he would do it all again given the opportunity.

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