Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Fourth Lucindale fire in four years claims life

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Chris Oldfield and Gabrielle Duykers, Naracoorte Community News

Lucindale’s community has been savaged by fire for the fourth consecutive year, this time claiming the life of a fellow CFS volunteer and personal friend to many locals, Louise Hincks of the Happy Valley brigade.

Lucindale fire
Over 50 private vehicles helped the CFS contain the blaze Photo: Ronnie Dix

Her life ended last Friday morning, just 10km from where Callendale’s Brian Nosworthy, Summertown’s Peter Matthies and Lucindale’s Andrew Lemke died during the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfire.

Meanwhile, a 2021 State Government pledge for an upgraded incident control room and Automated Vehicle Location Technology for all CFS units announced following last year’s January 11 fire at Lucindale, has yet to be done.

Last Wednesday around 1pm, Nuland employee Jack Watson was on a tractor raking up blue gum slash on private property when he noticed a plume of black smoke in a neighbouring bluegum plantation.

Around 1 – 2 kms south east of the fire, with limited phone service, Jack reported the fire, then sent a text message and photo to his father, Callendale farmer Nigel Watson.

Ironically, he was working at the fire water tank at the Lucindale Four Mile with Tom McWaters and Cr Trevor Rayner, where they had connected a pump with the help of Anthony Bretag from Naracoorte Pumps and Electrical.

“I rang and reported the fire again,” Mr Watson said.

“We knew exactly where Jack was, and where the fire was, so we headed out there. Ian Jenke from the Lucindale CFS was right behind us.”

Lucindale CFS Group Officer Patrick Ross, a farmer from north of Lucindale, could see smoke from a hill on his way to Lucindale.

“When you see smoke from a fire that’s around 50kms away, you know it’s not a good look,” Mr Ross said.

Lucindale fire
The plume of smoke first reported to the CFS by Lucindale’s Jack Watson at 1pm last Wednesday Photo: Jack Watson

“Ian Jenke then radioed in from the Elad Road and said: `We need to throw everything at this.’,” Mr Ross said.

“There was a bluegum harvester operating at the point of origin when the fire started. The fire ran through bluegums all the way to Ballogie, the Legoe property on Callendale Road and Elad Road.”

Ground and air crews ensured no homes or buildings were lost.

“At the end of Day 1, Wednesday, we had it contained within just a smidgen over 2000 hectares,” Mr Ross said.

Fire maintenance continued on Thursday and around 4pm several trash piles of bluegum slash, like giant Easter Eggs, had burst into flames. Crews went to check on them.

Meanwhile, Mr Ross said there was an area on the South East corner of the fire where crews had not managed to get a firebreak through.

“Fire got into the bluegums, and once it’s in the bluegums there’s no way to control it.”

Mr Ross said the air observer then reported a crowning fire. Embers were dropping up to 10kms in front of the main fire which was burning out of control.

“As the fire was approaching Callendale Road at Callendale Station and those homesteads, we had 50 – 100 farm fire units there and they did an incredible job supporting the big appliances,” Mr Ross said.

“We also had Bob Crosby who has a plough 25 feet wide and David Bull with a grader  – we’d rung those guys. They established fire breaks of bare earth 500 metres west of Callendale Road.”

“When we had spot fires in Legoes scrub I trembled.”

It would have meant the region had two very large uncontrolled fires raging across the landscape.

“What the aircraft then did is outstanding. The air track supervisor said it is not very often you can contain a fire in scrub and it was outstanding for them to achieve that,” Mr Ross said.

“By nightfall Thursday night we had suppressed the fire – it had crossed Callendale Road between Ballogie and Kyam Road and only burnt 100 and 300 metres west of the Callendale road.

“It was an outstanding effort to pull it up there,” said Mr Ross, praising all of the volunteers in crews and farm units, as well as air support..

Mr Ross said trees were starting to fall over the road and limbs were dropping off trees, so a Red Flag warning was issued regarding the “serious hazard of falling timber and trees”.

“So it was incredibly tragic it came over the (CFS) radio someone had lost their life. Some of the people in the station actually knew the person, and had known her for 20 years. It was a very big dampener. A very tough time.”

A red gum tree had fallen on a fire truck, killing volunteer Louise Hincks and seriously injuring another.

Naracoorte’s CFS regional commander John Probert said Ms Hincks had been to the South East “many, many times over the years”.

“Louise is one of those really beautiful people. She’s got kids, a husband who loves her to bits as well her CFS family. She has touched so many, in a good way,” he said.

“It has been a difficult fire. We are grateful to those people who have come a very long way to help us as well – from over in Victoria, the Adelaide Hills, Murray Bridge, you name it – all over the place.

“It says a lot about being Australian. When our mates are in strife, we help and as it has shown with Louise, sometimes paying the ultimate sacrifice.”

Mr Probert said at one point up to meals for up to 300 people were served at the fire ground and as the paper went to print, 160 volunteers remained on site.

He said a  62-year-old Ironbank man who sustained serious injuries was expected to recover.

SA Police said it would be preparing a report for the Coroner, while Safework SA were attending the scene to assist with the investigation.

Both the Premier Stephen Marshall and Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas have issued statements, sending their condolences to the family of Ms Hincks.

An online fundraiser to support the family of Ms Hincks had received more than 200 donations totalling more than $13,000 by Sunday night.

Ms Hinks’ brother Tony has spoken on behalf of the family, thanking the community for their outpouring of support and has sincerely thanked every volunteer from the CFS who is currently on the ground.

Naracoorte Community News 26 January 2022

This article appeared in the Naracoorte Community News, 26 January 2022.

Related story: Fire tragedy: Obituary for Louise Hincks

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