FIRES ROYAL COMMISSION
THE Taggerty Heights “Dad’s Army” saved themselves and their neighbours’ homes on Black Saturday and during the three weeks of spotting that followed. Yesterday, member Douglas Walter told the royal commission they were pushing for an expansion of their home-grown scheme.
Two years ago, hobby-farmers from 15 households began planning “for exactly this event that happened on the February 7”, said Mr Walter, a retired public servant in his 60s. They prepared their properties, bought hoses, pumps and protective clothing – and set up their own UHF radio network, which Mr Walter credits with having saved his life on Black Saturday.
He said power and telephone failures were common in the area, near Eildon, and they wanted to be able to communicate in an emergency.
The first indication of fire nearby that day was a huge mushroom cloud of smoke about 4.30pm. The electricity and phones went out at almost the same time.
A neighbour who was a former CFA fire captain radioed in and warned Mr Walter “to let it come to me”. That warning saved his life. “It would have been disastrous,” he said. “The blue gums would have gone up and exploded behind me and left me stranded and my wife alone. My neighbour saying, ‘Don’t go down and fight it’, probably did save my life.”
Mr Walter said the flames were up to 100 metres. “In an instant, we were engulfed by an orange fireball. The wind was so great and the fire so big that the flames were actually bending over the top of our home.”
He and his neighbours stayed on fire watch via their radios for three weeks.
“If we received from one of our neighbours that there was a fire on a place … we would all jump in vehicles with all of our fire-fighting equipment and we would descend on the outbreak,” he said.
CFA strike teams in the area monitored the Dad’s Army radio channel. “They would listen to our chatter and if they thought it was too big (for us), they would ring us and make an offer,” Mr Walter explained.
All the group members’ homes were saved.
Mr Walter said the Dad’s Army had proposed to the State Government and the Murrindindi Shire Council that repeater stations be built to allow radio contact across the area’s mountainous black spots. This, and equipping Murrindindi’s 6700 households with radios, would cost about $1.5 million, he told The Age outside the hearing.
Mr Walter told the inquiry that farmers should be given financial help to buy fire equipment and train with the CFA without joining as members, as many did not want to join officially for fear they could be on a call-out when their own homes and families were threatened.
First published in The Age.
Dad’s Army saved Taggerty Heights
FIRES ROYAL COMMISSION