Giro area volunteer fire fighter pleas for better bushfire preparedness

Greg Godde lives on the property across from where the Ridge 400 fire started after a lightning strike. Photo Anne Keen
Greg Godde lives on the property across from where the Ridge 400 fire started after a lightning strike. Photo Anne Keen

Good land management, early detection, early access and suppression may be the key to avoiding another bushfire Black Summer. This according to NSW RFS member, NSW Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA) secretary and Bretti resident, Greg Godde.

The VFFA were among the more than 1700 public submissions to the Royal Commission into Australia's preparedness for, and response to the 2019/2020 bushfire season.

Greg may only have been living in the Gloucester region for the past 12 months, but his experience with fire fighting dates back to 1977. He was 16 years old when he attended his first call out to a fire at a railway in Culcairn, south of Wagga Wagga.

"My father was the captain back then," Greg said. "Fire fighting was just a part of farm life."

He's of the schooling that each year you burn off open grazing land to help with weed suppression, and what he's learned is that when you get rid of the "rubbish" there is less fuel for a fire.

The Giro fire in Bretti Reserve caused the closure of the Thunderbolts Way on several occasions.

The Giro fire in Bretti Reserve caused the closure of the Thunderbolts Way on several occasions.

When he and his wife moved into the Kauthi Station homestead near Giro, he found himself surrounded by dense bushland. And it's this bushland that burned on both sides of his home during the 2019/2020 bushfire season.

The first big event started on September 6 at Mountain Creek in Bretti Reserve (Giro) and burned fast and fierce driven by hot, dry winds. Greg said it burned so hot it damaged the humus (upper level of soil) and very little has regrown in the area since.

The VFFA's submission to the Royal Commission talks about how the massive fuel loads and poorly maintained and overgrown fire trails were the biggest threat to the safety of the first responders.

It recommends four key areas of focus to help better prepare Australia for the bushfire season. They are: improved land management, further development of early detection systems, improved access and fire trail networks and constant improvement of systems and support to promote early fire suppression

Greg Godde talks about Ridge 400 fire

An example of how these points would have made a difference is with the Ridge 400 fire which was the next big event for Greg and his neighbours. It began on a rocky outcrop after a lightning strike in late November.

According to Greg, it began with a slow burn but in a place that was inaccessible by road.

"If they had been able to get in early, it would have been out sooner," Greg explained.

Efforts to get it attended to by air were difficult due to the sheer number of fires burning in the region and it continued to burn. The Bretti fire, which eventually burned east until it joined up with the Rumba Dump fire, west of Taree, and the Ridge 400 fire (Woko National Park) continued to burn until the heavy rains hit between January 16 and 19.

Greg believes maintained fire trails would have helped volunteer fire fighters, like himself, get into areas sooner to box in the fires. He also believes that if there were periodic slow burns in a mosaic pattern around the dense bushland there would be less fuel and more opportunity for wildlife to get out of the burning areas.

"Climate change aside, it's about the amount of fuel on the ground," Greg said. "Government departments are making it more difficult to get approval for hazard reduction."

Fire trucks gathered in the area near the Woko fire. Photo Kim Wiesner.

Fire trucks gathered in the area near the Woko fire. Photo Kim Wiesner.

When it comes to early detection, Greg believes that installing smoke detecting camera on the highest peaks will help notify the authorities sooner. And for early suppression, when it comes to the Giro area, it could be as simple as building a fire station closer to where the fires occur.

At this stage, there are 65 kilometre between fire stations at Tibbuc and Nowendoc with nothing but dense bushland in between. For volunteers in the Bretti area, they need to travel away from the fire ground to the shed, then back again.

"It can take 30 to 40 minutes to get from the shed to the fire," Greg said. "We are pushing to get one built at Giro."