[Reports Presented at 2001 FRFANZ Conference]
INITIAL ATTACK ‑ Significant Fire, Boxing Day, 2000, Blenheim
Barry Bridges, MarIborough DC PRFO, outlined conditions prevailing before the outbreak of fire. There had been good spring growth, but rainfall was much less than average in Nov/Dec. Temperatures were higher than average. On the two days 25/26 Dec., these were 29% and even at temperature was stable at around 24o in the north‑facing Withers Hills. Relative humidity on the 26th dropped to 40%, and the DC in the Awatere Valley was 581. All firefighting resources were on alert.
Initial Attack 26 December
Barry is also Blenheim CFO. The first fire call of the morning was to the Waihopai Valley, 35 km from Blenheim. While he was responding, a second call was received at 1056 to Ward, about 60 km south of Blenheim. Barry continued to Waihopai, and this fire was contained at about 20 ha. Blenheims DCF0 responded to Ward, and helicopters were dispatched to assist there.
On returning from Waihopai, Barry heard the calls to a fire on the Taylor Rd at 1601. He ordered a tanker to respond, and got his first glimpse of smoke while still 12 km away when passing through Renwick. On arrival, the fire was still on the flat, threatening houses on the left flank. Appliances were sent in to deal with this flank, and the tanker with spray boom sent in on the right to prevent the fire reaching the Wither Hills, and a popular walking track. At this point, he had thought that it was possible to cut the fire off. However, the fire spotted 100m ahead, and into the hills, and was lost.
Fire researcher Grant Pearce said that the ISI in the Awatere Valley was 40.5 (47.9 at Woodbourne air field) on the day. Grass on the Wither Hills was 95‑100% cured and the loading was 2.5‑7 t/ha. It was higher at Ward. There was therefore the potential for head fire intensities of 18,500 kW/m, and a rate of spread of 10 kph on level ground. At a 10o slope. the ROS would climb to 16.4 kph, and the intensity to 41,000 kW/m.
Change of Tactics
With the Hills alight, Barry's immediate concern was for trampers on the walkway, and the protection of property. There was no information on how many may have been up there, although there were two cars parked in the walkway carpark. He dispatched a 4WD up the hill to look, and demanded two helicopters from the Ward fire. The first helicopter picked two walkers off the hill, and a third managed to make his own way down. The fire was making rapid progress in a NW direction to the State Highway. It jumped and would ultimately be stopped by the sea. 100's of volunteers were turning out, most dressed for the hot temperatures in shorts and singlets. Refusal caused much criticism. Helicopters were ordered in from Wellington and, in the heat of the moment, fixed‑wing aircraft were ignored although they were readily available. Only the flanks of the fire could be worked on, and contact with crews became very stretched. SAR arrived with a communications vehicle, but this was incompatible. Aside from property protection (no houses were lost), ground operations focused on heavy machinery to cut breaks. These worked reasonably well, although the roll‑over was to cause lingering problems. The head of the fire kept charging on, jumping roads. Helicopters were stood down overnight, but bulldozers worked through.
CIMS APPLICATION ‑ Significant Fire, Boxing Day, 2000, Blenheim
The Marlborough fire situation was being monitored by the NRFA and an offer to put an IMT in to assist the MDC was accepted at 2000. John Barnes said that it was difficult getting hold of team members because of the. holiday period. The team - John, Chris Milsom. Tony Teeling and local Vern Harris ‑ began work at 0830 next morning. The IMT had to start from scratch in setting up an organization. The Blenheirn CD HQ was chosen as ICP, and locals were used to staff positions below the IMT. The situation was that there were two major fires with a forecast of continuation of hot, dry weather. 16 organisations were involved with 30 people at the ICP and 250‑300 firefighters. 11 helicopters and 4 fixed‑wing aircraft were available. Forestry blocks had been destroyed, 16 pastoral farms were damaged, 200‑250 km fenceline destroyed, 2000 sheep and 50 cattle lost. Roadblocks were in force, and life and property remained under threat.
The experience of the IMT ‑ two of the members had earlier been part of the Anzac contingent to the US saw a quick implementation of CIMS. For instance, Wellington RFA's were being requested for crews, by 0900. Rain overnight on the 27/28 helped in gaining control of the fires. Control was handed back to the MDC on the 29th, starting at 1300. Points that arose:
availability of volunteer firefighters for long duration incidents
lack of experienced communications officers
availability of buildings for use as ICP's ‑ should be regional centres previously selected
need for experienced personnel to fill roles
agreements/protocols/delegations associated with getting IMTs in
CIMS training required at all levels
shadowing roles for new IMT members to learn
lead agency needs to fill finance role
dealing with untrained volunteers
This was the first of several CIMS implementations for the season. At the Cora Lynn (Cant.) fire, an IMT and firefighters again came from the North Island, with an EOC being set up in Christchurch. Tony Teeling has been specialising in strategy, and this means ideally looking ahead 24 and 48 hours. He pointed out that CIMS is still developing in NZ; some observations:
we all own CIMS
the roles beneath the IMT members lack definition
we need commitment to train in CIMS
agencies must co‑ordinate
we must scutinise performance
there is a modern focus with regard to liability
CIMS will enable recurring debrief issues to be rectified