By Melissa Meehan
AS SMOKE billowed and nearby residents rushed to their cameras more than 16 firefighting appliances raced to a grass fire on a private property in Officer on Friday afternoon.
Sixteen fire trucks, four support vehicles, a couple of quick pumps and light tankers may be a lot for the fire of its size, but it seems fire crews, still shaken by the Black Saturday fires, don’t want to leave anything to chance.
Following a fire truck down the dirt road towards the blaze presented its own challenges: seeing past the dirt and smoke and avoiding cars parked on the side of the road, their drivers trying to get a better look.
Overhead were two helicopters, one to observe the movements of the fire, the other to dump water on the out-of-control fire.
Officer CFA captain Garry Barnes said the fire started not long after 4pm on Friday after the property owner was doing some slashing.
“The wire got wrapped around the slasher, which got it sparking and kicked it off,” Captain Barnes said.
“A lot of people get complacent because they think summer is over – but in reality the ground is probably the driest it has been all year.”
He said windy conditions made it difficult to control the blaze.
“Every time we got it under control the wind picked up and sent it on another direction,” he said.
CFA incident controller Steve Hicks said it took crews from Nar Nar Goon, Pakenham, Tynong, Maryknoll, Beaconsfield, Upper Beaconsfield, Narre Warren East, Berwick, Clyde, Kooweerup, Toomuc, Officer and both the Casey and Cardinia Group just over an hour to control the blaze that burnt 58 hectares of grasslands.
“We didn’t expect it to get that big or move that quickly in those conditions,” Mr Hicks said.
“The smoke was billowing a bit, from all reports there was a huge amount of smoke – the grass was fairly harsh.”
Mr Barnes said landowners needed to take precautions while slashing during summer and the months after.
“They need to take a bit of care and watch the conditions,” he said.
“A calm day is not as bad as a windy day.”
By Melissa Meehan