Feature, News from the Field

Fighting fires in the far north

10 Dec. 2023
Kerri Enever/AWC

What was supposed to be a tranquil time in the Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary garden turned into a frenzied fight against an approaching wildfire for Sanctuary Managers Gavin and Kerri Enever.

“Kerri and I had planned for a lazy weekend when early Saturday morning a Northern Australian Fire Information (NAFI) fire alert came through for our area” explains Gavin. “Kerri jumped onto NAFI to discover a fire heading for the Kondaparinga Station homestead, our neighbours 45km (70km driving) to the west. We rang the Djungan Traditional Owners to see if they needed a hand and discovered that they had no one at the homestead complex – the closet Traditional Owner was at least two days away! We offered to head over to Kondaparinga with a fire unit and see what we could do.

“Luckily, we had the fire unit primed and ready to go, all we had to do was quickly throw some cans of food and plenty of water together, and we were on the road.”

Gavin and Kerri arrived to find the first house fully ablaze. Kerri Enever/AWC
Gavin and Kerri arrived to find the first house fully ablaze.

“When Kerri and I turned up at Kondaparinga, the first house was well ablaze, the veranda was ablaze on the second house, and the fire was raging towards the main homestead, so we had to quickly prioritise. We decided to focus on the slowing the burning veranda on the second house. Luckily, we managed to stop the fire on the second house before it took hold of the main section of the building, giving us enough time to quickly get over to the main homestead and put in another temporary block on the fire heading to the main homestead complex.”

Bush mechanics. A jerry-rigged bush grader used to create a fire break. Kerri Enever/AWC
Bush mechanics. A jerry-rigged bush grader used to create a fire break.

“With the main fire front slowed by our temporary block, we quickly scouted around and found an old steel frame that we chained up behind the fire truck as a rough bush grader. We added a fallen log to the steel frame to add some extra weight and hastily started dragging this around the inside of the homestead house yard to create a fire break that we could attempt a backburn from. Kerri and I quickly formulated a backup plan in case things went pair-shaped, so we had it clear between us, what we were going to do if the fire looked like overrunning us.

“Just as we finished our fire break the blaze jumped the block, heading straight for us and the homestead.”

The ferocious blaze jumped the temporary fire block and roared toward the homestead. Kerri Enever/AWC
The ferocious blaze jumped the temporary fire block and roared toward the homestead.

“The wind was directly behind the fire blowing between 35 to 40 knots – it was so windy the trees were bending over nearly 30 degrees in the gusts. With no options left, we backburnt around the homestead off the bush break that we had just finished.

“With Kerri in the fire truck, I got the drip torch out and started back burning around the homestead. With some nifty teamwork, we managed to successfully hold our back burn and save the homestead. With no time to spare, we got back to the second house and completed extinguishing the still smouldering veranda and the old logan home was saved minus a veranda.”

The still smouldering veranda and saved main house. Kerri Enever/AWC
The still smouldering veranda and saved main house.

“We will let the pictures do the talking, but the fire conditions on the day were nothing short of atrocious, with a constant wind of 30 knots gusting to 40 knots for extended periods.  The fuel loads around the homestead were heavy, and we estimated the rate of fire spread at times was approximated at 100m in 20 seconds, pretty nerve-racking stuff.”

While Gavin and Kerri’s weekend plans for a relaxing time in the garden may not have unfolded as planned, the successful rescue of the Kondaparinga homestead stands as a testament to the power of swift action and effective teamwork in the face of adversity. It serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of proactive fire management and preparedness.

For more information on fire management and strategies for protecting wildlife and communities from wildfires, you can explore our resources here.

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