JERVIS BAY FIRE - December 1994

During the week ending 2nd December 1994, a fuel reduction burn was carried out by Jervis Bay National Park personnel in logging slash, left following the harvesting of the last remaining pines owned by A.C.T. Forests in the National Park. There were very high fuel loadings, estimated to be 70 to 80 tonnes per hectare of logging debris.

Two compartments were burnt under very mild conditions, and a later inspection showed the fires to be very mild, with 60% to 70% of the finer slash removed, and most of the heavier log material left behind. The area was mopped up as much as possible, and patrolled over the following days.

On Tuesday 6 December, high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds caused previously smouldering material to ignite, and the fire escaped into other compartments some with unburnt logging slash, others that had been logged five years previously and revegetated to native vegetation, and into the surrounding park area.

In comparison to the two compartments burnt in the orginal burn, where the fire burnt into freshly logged compartments, there was 100% consumption of fine fuels, and the heavy log fuels were approximately 80% burnt.

Unfortunately, in trying to stop the spread of fire in freshly logged compartments, Jervis Bay 28 (Toyota Light unit) became hooked on a stump in a compartment, and despite all attempts, could not be removed and was totally destroyed, fortunately with no injuries.

As Jervis Bay resources were heavily committed to this fire, two A.C.T. Forests light units and a Deputy Chief Fire Control Officer were dispatched early on Wednesday 7 December to assist. These units were initially used to help mop up on established control lines, but later on were used to help contain an escape, which burnt another 50 hectares, and had the potential to threaten two camping parks in the National Park.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, four volunteers from the Rivers Brigade were sent down to relieve the four A.C.T. Forests crew. The Rivers personnel then worked through the night on the Forests light units, and the Forests personnel then worked on Thursday 8 December before returning to Canberra (and welcome rain) that afternoon.

The total area burnt was 350 hectares.

Probably the main lesson to be learnt is that fires in logging slash on hot days can be extremely intense, and that unless personnel have an intimate knowledge of the area, they must never leave the clearly defined tracks within an area.

The light unit was a complete write off, with the windscreen melting and draping over the dashboard, the aluminium head on the engine melting down to the block, and the pump was a blob of aluminium. The fire was so intense, that where the suspension was caught on the stump, the springs lost their tension and conformed to the shape of the stump.

Although it appears humerous now, it was potentially a life threatening situation that could have had disastrous consequences.

Ian McArthur (A.C.T. Rural Fire Service Deputy CFCO) 23 January 1995

Last updated 4 November 2014