Fire – Takatu fire control

By Chris Jensen

Readers of last month’s publication may recall the topic of the fire article was the supply of water in remote rural locations. Ironically, that very situation arose in the last week of March when fire crews from Matakana, Warkworth, Leigh and Mahurangi East stations attended a bush fire in Takatu Road, on the Tawharanui Peninsula.

A controlled burn was taking place in a small disused quarry. The fire spread uphill in all directions taking hold in a large quantity of felled trees. Fire burning uphill, especially when fanned by even light winds, can spread at an alarming rate, sometimes changing direction with the direction of the wind, which is what this fire did. The fire edges were fought by crews at multiple locations. Of immediate concern was the spread up towards a stand of large trees and just beyond that, a house. The fire spread along the ground until reaching a large toitoi bush situated at the edge of the stand of trees. The dry toitoi immediately caught fire, causing flames to leap upwards into the lower tree canopy. Fighting the fire on the ground was hindered by the supply of water in the remote location. Water on the attending appliances soon ran out and alternative supplies had to be quickly found. Two nearby water tanks were soon drained by portable water pumps and the water transferred to fire trucks.

Following this, the portable pumps were redeployed to pump water out of a nearby creek. Fire Service water tankers were sent from Matakana, Mahurangi and Silverdale stations, as well as a private water tanker. Importantly, a Skyworks helicopter was called at an early stage and using a monsoon bucket, multiple loads of water were dumped onto problem areas. Within a couple of hours the fire was brought under control and ground crews spent the next couple of hours dampening the wider area with particular attention to any hot spots or areas of concern.

At the job completion, crews then have the job of packing up all the equipment and carrying it over steep and uneven terrain back to the appliances before returning to their respective stations. However, the work does not end there. Once back at their station, hoses, equipment and trucks have to be washed down of the dirt, soot and ash that coats surfaces, and then packed up and reinstated to the appliances. Trucks and tankers have to be refilled with water ready for the next callout. Crew overalls are put through the washing machines and dried. Then, lastly, we ourselves, the volunteers, have to be put through the wash, removing ash and soot from skin, hair and nostrils; and if there is one thing I have learned over time is that after such callouts, you never use the WHITE towels at home!