‘Give thanks no lives lost to volatile fire’

A letter from NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons

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It is now a month since the Sir Ivan fire which destroyed 55,000 hectares of land east of Dunedoo.

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It is now a month since the Sir Ivan fire which destroyed 55,000 hectares of land east of Dunedoo.

This was an extraordinary fire, which burnt in extraordinary conditions and I would like to reflect a little on the extraordinary efforts of all involved over that weekend.

After a prolonged heatwave, the weekend of February 11 and 12 was “as bad as it gets”. February 12 would see catastrophic fire dangers across much of NSW.

The Sir Ivan fire was first reported on February 11 and immediately a significant firefighting operation was launched. Local brigades from Leadville, Dunedoo, Hannahs Bridge and Uarbry were the first on scene with local landholders. Throughout the day and night there would be 13 local crews, two strike teams, a Rapid Aerial Response team working from a helicopter, five heavy plant, two large air tankers and the DC10 very large air tanker, as well as six other aircraft.

Local volunteers have described the conditions that night as similar to those you would expect to see in the middle of a summer’s day.

They worked hard to put in a backburn, and this would keep the fire contained for several hours the following day and help stop the fire reaching Cassilis.

Put simply, everything that could be done was done. The conditions the following day would prove too much. The focus was on protecting life.

Fire prediction models on Sunday showed under the conditions, it was probable the fire would not just reach Cassilis, but surround it. Crews were put in place to protect the village and the people who had been told to seek safety there.

Firefighters and landholders worked together to protect homes and properties – and it’s a credit to them that more homes weren’t lost and the damage wasn’t greater.

Throughout this period, control of the fireground rested with local volunteers, who were supported by their local Incident Management Team.

Hindsight is a wonderful tool and after the event, it is always easy to look back, reflect and suggest that things could have been done differently.

All those involved in fighting this fire made difficult, sound decisions and implemented strategies in a very dangerous, fast moving and volatile environment, using the information and predictions available at the time.

Their focus at all times was on saving life and as much property as possible.

So many worked so hard to protect their own community in the most dangerous of conditions, and in some circumstances, lost their own homes and property while working to save lives and protect the property of others.

While each of the 35 homes destroyed are a tragic loss, we need to acknowledge 80 others were saved thanks to the efforts of all involved.

It’s also important to remember this – despite the very worst fire weather conditions, and a large and destructive fire which consumed so much, not a single human life was lost. For this, we should all be forever grateful.

I would like to thank all involved in the local Incident Management Team and the NSW RFS state operations centre, working in partnership with the media on the delivery of information and warnings that enabled those in the fire’s path to make timely and considered decisions.

I also reiterate my appreciation and admiration for the extraordinary firefighting effort – including our NSW RFS volunteers and their firefighting and emergency service colleagues, both on the ground and in the air, working closely with landholders and the community in saving life and as much property as possible.

You can hear some of the stories from local volunteers, and learn more about the background to this fire, at https://goo.gl/7dQr2R

Shane Fitzsimmons

Commissioner NSW Rural Fire Service

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