Here are the notes from last night's CFS community meeting held in Port Lincoln. Thanks to the IMT team and Bille for scribing the meeting.
CFS Regional Commander Kevin May gave the regional perspective and local history of fires.
- He said the regional role in any incident was coordination and support for CFS groups and brigades, making sure the requested resources were made available.
- Region 6 headquarters was coordinating two other fires in the region on Tuesday when the Coomunga fire started.
- He said the fire season had started horribly early this year.
- He explained the role of incident management teams, of which there are four in SA, and said that when the Coomunga fire took off on Tuesday they knew they would need an incident management team brought in because of the terrain the fire was burning in.
Incident controller Rob Ellis provided an update on the fire as of Friday evening.
- He headed the incident management team that arrived on Thursday, with a number of members of the dayshift staying until the early hours of the morning to get the team up to date.
- He said control lines were in place around the fire but work was still being done to widen the breaks around the fireground.
- Plant equipment was being used on Friday night to widen the break on the eastern flank.
- The southern flank was back burned on Thursday but the weather and fuel load were not ideal.
- The focus on Friday was the containment line on the southern flank but he said it was not 100% secure and the fire had come through in places.
- He said there was 90% probability they would achieve containment in that area but nothing was guaranteed.
- He said Friday had been a real test for the team.
- There was a spot over on the south west flank but it was minor and crews got on top of it.
- He said the priority for Saturday would be to secure the eastern flank and widen the break from two to three grader widths.
- He said possible showers were expected on Saturday morning but there would not be much rain in it.
Saturday (tomorrow) will be the test day with warm weather predicted – 29 degrees – and more moderate weather predicted for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
CFS group officer Barry Hethrington was the sector commander on the southern flank on Friday.
- He provided a four-day summary of the progress of the fire.
- He was at the CFS base due to the catastrophic fire danger rating on Tuesday when the pagers went off for the fire.
- It was initially reported to be at Big Swamp.
- He said the first job was to find out where it was and where it was heading and get that information back to regional headquarters so warnings could start being issued and appliances could be sent to the fireground.
- Mr Hethrington said knowing what the scrub was like where the fire was burning he knew what a difficult job fighting it would be and they would have to throw everything they could at it.
- The nest three hours was organized chaos with fire appliances being sent to the fireground.
- Because of the scrub the crews couldn't get close to it.
- He said the fire initially spread to create a typical fire scare with the wind pushing it to the south east.
- Being in scrub, the fire was moving at about 2-3kph, which is about half the speed fire travels in grassland or crop.
- Then the wind changed and the fire swung to the east.
- Joe Tilley did some mapping to predict where the fire could be in the next 2-3 hours depending on conditions and some of the circles he drew overlapped Port Lincoln.
- Mr Ellis said what saved the city was the work of the fire crews and the backing off of those conditions.
- Fallback lines were being put in place as far away as the prison but the fire was stopped before the railway line as it came out of the scrub.
- This gave them an opportunity to think about how they were going to manage the fire and start putting in containment lines.
- On Wednesday they worked on a firebreak to the north.
- They were getting spots into crops north of the fire and it started to race away but crews got on top of it again.
- They also started to look at back burning to create breaks.
- Crews started to build containment lines on the southern side and on Thursday they back burned the southern flank.
- Mr Hethrington said they needed good strong breezes and consistent fuel and a consistent wind direction, none of which they had, so the result had been patchy.
- They returned to the incident management team with the news that if there was a significant northerly the chance of it being contained was not better than 50%.
- If the weather predicted for Friday had eventuated he believed they would have been back to square one.
- He said there was still potential for Port Lincoln to be put under threat again tomorrow (Saturday) if there was a significant northerly wind.
Lincoln brigade captain Greg Napier gave his perspective of the fire from the fireground.
- He said once volunteers put on the uniform they accepted a level of responsibility to do their best to protect the community.
- From personal experience with a fire at Duck Pond in 2006 where their appliance got two flat tyres in about 10 metres he knew they could not get far into the scrub.
- They hoped the wind would turn and give them the opportunity to do some work on the flank.
- He said part of their role was "structural triage" where they considered if a property was defendable without putting the crew in danger.
- He said it was good to see so many well-prepared people as they drove around the Coomunga fireground.
- He said most of the best preparation work by the locals had been done well before the fire got there.