Senior Deputy, Peter Raines, wrote the following description:

This fire travelled fast.

To give people an idea of the speed of this fire, it started on Wednesday 16th October at the Lithgow army base at Marrangaroo. Overnight attempts to contain it were unsuccessful and, though it was predicted that it would get to Clarence on the Thursday afternoon, it made it all the way to Mount Tootie. On its way it ran the full length of Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine, running into our streets and properties in a number of areas at the same time. It impacted on Church Lane, Farrer Road, Smiths Road, Scrivener Pass, Danes Way and the north end of Mt Irvine all on Thursday afternoon and evening.

Much good work was done to save the properties that were saved and huge thanks must go to the visiting crews that assisted with this work – Hawkesbury Strike Team, Hornsby Strike Team, NPWS crews and Blue Mountains Crews. These crews, along with our local brigade, managed to save many properties and secure the majority of the north side of Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine before dawn on the Friday.

I spent much of the first night of the fire travelling back and forth from Mt Wilson to Mt Irvine checking on the hot spots, assisting crews with local knowledge and getting back burning operations underway. I hope this account will give local people an insight into how much was achieved that night and how close we came to losing many more houses.

In the 1994 fires, it took us five days to back burn around Mt Wilson and out towards Mt Irvine – we got as far as Touri. In this fire, by dawn on Friday the majority of the north side of both Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine was black. In less than 12 hours, we blackened from the corner of Denarque, right down the north side, around the end of Mt Irvine and back under Tallawong and Bowen Lea – with only a few hot spots still going around Lambs Hill, Touri and Scrivener Pass.

I first heard of the fire after ringing M & N Produce at Marrangaroo for some fencing materials. They are located opposite the access road to the army base and hence knew that RFS crews had been unable to get access due to unexploded army ordinance. I rang Fire Control and followed its progress that afternoon, recognising that there was a good chance that the fire could come our way. I requested both a bulldozer and grader on Wednesday afternoon so that we could start preparing our fire trails. This was followed up a number of times on Thursday, but although promised, they did not arrive until Friday morning after the fire front had been through.

We are very fortunate that the fire took a run to the north of Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine, not straight over the top of both villages. The timing in the early evening was also better than getting it mid afternoon.
After it spotted over Clarence Colliery and the Hanson Sand Mine, the fire started its run into the headwaters of Yarramun Creek. At this point, we thought the fire would hit Mt Wilson around Breenhold, the Fire Station, School and the back of Church Lane.

Soon after this, the wind changed to a south westerly, and the fire started a massive run, parallel with Mt Wilson. It pushed around the end of Mt Wilson to the north, before disappearing in its own smoke. We needed more crews to assist us, but by this time there were other fires at Mt Victoria and Winmalee and Yellow Rock. Knowing that all crews in the Mountains and Lithgow were busy, we requested crews from the Richmond side. At this point we only had our three trucks and the Cat 9. I told Fire Control that we would save what we could with what we have. Crews were positioned at Church Lane and Mt Irvine Road (from Pine Lodge to Cathedral Reserve).

After a run out to Farrer Road and Smiths Road and finding thick black smoke coming out of the valley, the decision was made to take most of the Farrer Road residents back closer to home and set up to defend what we could with the Cat 1 and Cat 9. The Pumper and Cat 7 set up to defend areas in Mt Wilson. About this time, a couple of other mountain crews arrived and were slotted into properties on Mt Irvine Road and Church Lane to defend them when the fire emerged from below. Once on Farrer Rd, the Cat 1 was set up to defend Wedgewood, while the Cat 9 patrolled the rest of Farrer Road. Communication was via landline back to the station as the terrain prevented the fire ground radios and mobile phones from working. The fire soon crossed the Wollangambe and started its run up the hill.

We then received news via the landline that the fire was impacting on the end of Mt Irvine around Irvineholme. Allen Hyde and I headed to Gowan Ross for a ute and started out to Mt Irvine. On pulling out of Farrer Road East, we met two trucks from the Hawkesbury Strike team headed for Mt Irvine. By Scrivener Pass we could see the fire rapidly approaching and I was concerned about being able to get back, so I decided to put Allen onto one of the trucks to complete his trip and I managed to slip back though Scrivener Pass just before the fire arrived.
On arrival back up to Wedgewood I could see the fire racing up the side of Smiths Hill. I quickly returned to Gowan Ross to pick up my truck with the tanker trailer attached and raced up to Smiths Hill to try to save my shed. Driving up the hill, I could see that Wedgewood's shed was well alight and knew that in another ten minutes my shed at Smiths would probably be the same.

Thinking that the shed would probably burn, I moved a ute and bobcat out into the paddock and set up the tanker trailer above the shed in the paddock away from the trees. After some issueswith hose fittings, I managed to get the pump going and dial-a-jet on the hose ready to go.

After an unsuccessful attempt to phone for help, I jumped in the ute and raced back down to Wedgewood where things had quietened down after the fire front had passed. I got a drip torch off the Cat 1 and asked David Howell who was Crew Leader if he could spare Tim Gow to help me save the shed.

Tim and I jumped in the ute and flew back up to Smiths. With one drip torch and 800L of water in the tanker trailer, we managed to save the shed, though not without a bit of excitement. In between, I raced over to Taylor's block and put out wood chip around the house that was burning.

On the way back, I kicked some embers off a stack of timer slabs I had in the paddock, thinking that this had saved them, only to look over later and see them well alight with no hope of saving them. With the burn completed most of the way around the shed, the pump ran out of fuel.

Tim went back to Wedgewood for fuel, while I stayed to watch the edge with the pump now running on drip torch fuel. Since I had been unable to get a phone call out during all this, due to no mobile phone coverage in the area, Beth was quite concerned, as she had not heard from me since I had headed out to Mt Irvine, hours beforehand. Out of the smoke came our Pumper and a Blue Mountains Cat 1 – the Pumper headed out to Taylor's and the Cat 1 assisted me for a bit before heading back up to Farrer Road West where the fire was now closing in.

Meanwhile, the Hawkesbury strike team had made it to Mt Irvine just in time to save four houses at the end of Mt Irvine. From reports the fire was still a couple of ridges back from Mt Irvine when it spotted into the valley on the Bowens Creek side and took a run out of the valley threatening the houses at the end of Mt Irvine – Irvineholme, Booralee, Chesterman's and Dougan's. There was some great work done by this strike team, the crews from NPWS, property owners and family to save these four houses. The fire then moved in under Mt Irvine Road and reduced intensity due to running into the areas that were hazard reduced over the last couple of years. During this time, crews attempted to access Danes Way but were stopped by fallen trees at the cemetery on Danes Way. With fire still burning in this area and big trees still falling, they retreated back off Danes Way.

Back in Mt Wilson, a Strike Team from Hornsby had arrived with a fresh crew for the night shift.
We stood most of our crews down, knowing that we would have a busy day the next day. The Hornsby team were split up – two to Mt Irvine, one to Church Lane and two to back burn from Cathedral back to under Church Lane. The fire had overrun both the outer fire trail and the inner fire trail at the back of Church Lane, and was in under the houses Donna Buang, Nooroo Cottage and Farcry. A Hornsby crew from Westleigh did a brilliant job throughout the night, working up to half a kilometre from their truck for most of the night. They wrapped up the edges at the back of Donna Buang and Nooroo Cottage before continuing the burn though very difficult terrain, from Farcry under Koojanup Park to join in with the crews working back from Cathedral. A portable pump was taken down though Farcry and plumbed into a 200,000 tank under the maple barn in Koojanup Park. This allowed the crews to wet line the fire edge as it was impossible to get trucks into this area. By morning, the fire had joined up with the back burn, and the area from Cathedral right back to Denarque was burnt out.
At 7.00am on Friday morning the plant arrived – two dozers, one trackscavator and one grader.

One dozer was deployed to link the fire edge at the back of Denarque back to the fire station. The fire was just starting to get into the piles of timber at the bottom of Denarque, so the Cat 1 was also deployed here to work on putting it out.

For most of the night as I moved back and forth between Mt Wilson, Farrer Road and Mt Irvine, I had been trying to find an opportunity to get up onto Danes Way. Knowing that with all the trees across Danes Way, I would have to go up though the properties from Mt Irvine Road. About 5.30am things had quietened down a bit, and the night shift crews were close to completing their tasks. We started on a mission to get up to Danes Way via the paddocks of Kookootonga. After many gates and a few laps around paddocks looking for gates, we emerged onto Danes Way mid way between Mending Wall and Carisbrook. Unable to go left due to fallen trees, we went right, up and over the bank to get around fallen trees at times. Upon reaching Carisbrook we found the
smoking ruins of the house and three sheds with the front gate still locked. We continued on towards Yurunga, our path blocked by another big tree across the road.

Back past Carisbrook and down the side fence past Carruthers and Nicholas (both of which were still standing) across and out Nicholas driveway back onto Danes Way, at the gate of Yurunga we discovered a burnt out car still smouldering. Cold shivers ran down my spine as I examined the driver's area and looked around the paddock as the first rays of sun started to arrive. A quick drive over to Yurunga house also confirmed that this had also been lost. Much was learnt from this emergency. A few key things were highlighted.

  • Water Access - During property protection, it's important to be able to plumb the trucks into a large static water supply at the property that is being protected, with an area for the trucks to be safely parked.
  • Fire Trails- the importance of inner and outer fire trails being well maintained and ready to use to protect Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine.
  • Asset Protection Zone – having a well-defined asset protection zone around infrastructure property/houses and sheds is crucial.
  • Property Maintenance – Prior to fire season, ensure area around house is cleared, grass is kept mowed, gutters cleaned and leaf litter removed.

We had a great response from many people in all the different roles, including community liaison officers, street co-ordinators, station officers, catering and crews on trucks. There was a good turnout of newly trained fire-fighters as well as some people we have not seen for a while. Thanks to all for your dedication and hard work.

Those who have experienced fire at Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine are adamant that the best strategy for residents is to prepare their property (link to website) – clear vegetation and wood piles around the house, clear gutters, have pumps in good working order and hoses that reach all around the house. Write as Bushfire Survival Plan for all the family (link to website) and have a rehearsal at the beginning of the season so that everyone knows what to do.