ready for fire

Mal kitchen

Malcolm at home at Dalry Road.

Two weeks ago, Darlington resident Malcom McNabb was preparing to face a bushfire. Read his personal account.

By Malcolm McNabb

Greetings Dalry Road east enders, Glen Forrest westerners, other friends and neighbours,

This day a week ago I walked outside my house at about quarter past two in the afternoon and could smell it. That unmistakable smell of the Australian bush burning.

My first thought was “No, all’s OK… just my imagination”. Then I looked out to the south east and gazed at an ominous grey and white plume.

It was rising just across the valley; or at least it appeared to be just across the valley…  fact was, no matter how close or far, it was pure malevolence on that day of 38 degrees with a brisk south-east wind blowing.

My heart started to pound in my chest, a multitude of action plans started to swim about in my head, whilst a little voice inside said “please, please,  don’t let this be THE ONE”.

My first action was to turn the garden hose on full bore and throw it into the swimming pool to ensure the pool would be as full as possible. Then into the pool went the suction end of my fire fighting pump, and then a quick pull on the starter rope. When the petrol motor kicked into action and the fire hose stiffened and bulged under pressure I started to breathe more slowly.

IMG_9130 - Version 2

Pool + pump + fire hose = a fighting chance

As I adjusted the nozzle of the fire hose (which issues about ten times the strength and volume of a garden hose on the mains water supply) I played amazing amounts of water over and above the roof of my house and the surrounding garden.  All the while thinking that I may soon face a battle of David & Goliath proportion – well at least I could now put up some sort of a fight.

I laid out a couple of fire hoses heading in different directions. It was then into the house and onto the phone to discuss early contingency considerations with neighbours – a routine made easier thanks to the comprehensive Fire Tree contact list compiled and distributed by our very own Professor in residence, David Jones.

If you are a long-time hills resident with your own water reserve and fire pump I’m sure that much of the above sentiment will be familiar to you.

We all survived this one, and I’m sure we would have all learnt something. Over the last seven days some interesting and pertinent information regarding the Glen Forrest fire has come my way, and I would like to share it with you in case it may not have reached you.  As you are probably aware, it’s now clear that the fire was caused when a tree fell across power lines on private property. As to the fire itself…

The link below will take you to a map that shows the extent (boundary) of the fire. The map is a “Google Earth” image with a “Google Tracker” trace laid over the top (shown as a blue line).

Google Tracker is an app. that can be downloaded to a mobile phone – in this case, the mobile phone was in a fire truck that was driven around the fire perimeter at 8.00 am on the morning after the fire (Tuesday 26th). As for the original Google Earth image itself – that appears to be a couple of years old (and therefore does not show burnt out remains of the fire).

Google Earth fire image.

As you view the Google image, keep in mind that it is not an officially released document, and therefore should not be taken as containing 100% accuracy – having been compiled from apps that are available free of charge. Main points of interest are:

  • The blue line shows the actual tracking of the fire truck as it traversed the perimeter of the burnt out area.
  • The tracking commenced at the position of the lower of the two orange “pseudo” map pins (which look like orange exclamation marks).
  • The elongated circle formed by the blue line is the actual burnt out area.
  • The single blue line that runs out from the top of the circle is the path the fire truck took as it exited out onto Hardy Road  (to the top orange marker, which is where the tracking ceased).
  • You can right click on the orange markers and blue lines in the legend to see further technical information.
  • The fire started in the vicinity of the lower orange marker, and the fire front moved diagonally across the outlined area (ie. in a north westerly direction).
  • There is a house shown at the virtual centre of the burnt out area; this house is the residence of Richard and Lyn Woldendorp.
  • The house shown towards the top of the burnt out area belongs to Lyn and Richard’s daughter Eva.
  • The fire started on a property which is adjacent to the Woldendorp property.
  • All survived the fire – Richard and Lyn’s home and Eva’s home were both saved, and all members are well (except for the need to adjust to a charred landscape which now surrounds them).
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Malcolm McNabb looks across the valley to the direction of the fire.

The Glen Forrest  Volunteer Bushfire Brigade was alerted to the fire at approximately 2.22pm. When the first of two tankers (ie. 4WD light vehicles equipped with water tanks and fire fighting pumps) arrived at the scene the fire was well under way. In fact they couldn’t see Richard’s house because of thick smoke.  Then, to their surprise and amazement, into view came the figure of a spritely and robust gent who was stoically fighting the fire with a water hose in hand – as the glass in the windows behind was cracking from intense heat, and with the fascia along one side of a car port on fire.

The gent who was so determined to save his house from the enveloping flames was Richard Waldendorp, who many of us know locally as renowned photographer and a former neighbour who lived with his wife Lyn at No.2 Binbrook Place – before he and Lyn moved to their present Hardey Road address.

 In analyzing the fire, the Glen Forrest brigade boys have expressed their admiration of Richard’s determination and cool headedness in his (initial) single-handed fight dealing with the flames.

I rang Richard on the weekend to check how he and Lyn are fairing. They are fine, remaining very positive, and want all to know that they appreciate the concern that those around them have shown.

Lyn described numerous dashes as she gathered and ferried her grandchildren from Eva’s house to the safety of the declared rendezvous point,  along Hardy Road towards the Highway.

Richard spoke in a manner that indicated to me that  he had never given up on a belief that he would save his home. Even in the face of such a menacing fire, with a fire front that sometimes reached 10 metres in height. The house is situated on an easterly slope, and exposed to the easterly winds. By the time the heli-tank water bombers had arrived at the scene, the fire front had moved over and beyond Richard and Lyn’s house. The arial tankers were however just in time to put out a section of fire which had progress to within 2 metres of Eva’s house.

Eva’s house has previously been threatened by fire – one that occurred 12 years ago, caused by a clash of overhead electrical wires on a high tension line that traverses the property. That fire necessitated an earnest fight by both Richard and Eva, as they battled together to save Eva’s house from the flames. On that occasion Lyn also ferried grandchildren to safety.

The water bombers and fire brigade units then worked together last Monday – as they had done 12 years earlier – to halt the spread of the fire which was heading east towards the more populated area of Glen Forrest (and if not stopped, into Darlington).

From Richard’s comments I can tell that his positive approach saving his house last Monday, with an odds-on philosophy of personal survival was due in no small way, to the following…

  • The presence of a fire protection sprays along the whole of the lower east side of the house.  

NB: Richards system is not an elaborate or highly expensive system, but a home-made fire protection system utilizing poly pipe and spray heads, with both ends of the pipe attached to the garden taps. When both of these taps are turned on, the pressure forces an effective amount of the water out of the sprays.

  • The (timber framed) house is clad in with a fire resistant cement and fibreglass coating.
  • Other purpose designed fire resisting features – such as fully sealed under-eaves and laminated (anti- shatter) glass in the windows.

(The house was designed by local Architect Allan Davies).

  • No tall shrubs and trees near the house, and no timber and rubbish near the outside of the house.
  • Firebreaks that are designed and maintained to allow easy and unobstructed entry and access by fire truck to 25 acres of land.
  • Timely arrival of the Glen Forrest Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, with their expertise and true grit.

That’s about it from me, but before I sign off, I’d like to again express the benefits and feeling of confidence that comes with having your own self reliant fire hose on stand-by.

If you happen to have a reserve of water on your property (eg. swimming pool, large pond, or water tank) and haven’t thought yet about it, I recommend you consider the feasibility of setting up a petrol driven fire-fighting pump and set of hoses. I would go for a two stage pump (twin impellor) powered by a 6.5 horsepower petrol engine… this combination will give you sufficient water pressure in reserve to cater for the addition of roof sprinklers if you desire them at a later stage, whilst the engine (pull-start) can be easily operated by man, woman or child (who’s eaten their wheatbix).

Even if you never install the sprinklers, you will be able to confidently run multiple hoses – should the need arise. But don’t just take it from me… there is much professional info available on the DFES web site in regards to setting up a domestic fire fighting system.

Cheers for now,

Malcolm McNabb.



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