Minutes from catastrophe: How Happy Valley was saved

 

Quick thinking from hero firefighters and residents saved Happy Valley from catastrophe at the eleventh hour on Sunday night.

Ground crews and aerial firefighting teams worked in the dark to push the bushfire around the township, while Happy Valley residents said yesterday they were forced to man hoses and use sprinklers to defend their homes.

Residents as young as 22 joined retirees in their 70s to fight the flames alongside firefighters, within one kilometre of homes.

A senior firefighter with knowledge of the ordeal explained how the blaze was pushed around the township, despite a lack of resources and unfavourable conditions.

Happy Valley volunteer firefighter Winston Williams exhausted at the end of the day on Monday evening, December 7, 2020. Picture: Elspeth Murray
Happy Valley volunteer firefighter Winston Williams exhausted at the end of the day on Monday evening, December 7, 2020. Picture: Elspeth Murray

"(Crews) never would have had the opportunity to put that fire out with the resources they had and the terrain that they were in," he said.

"So they had to steer the fire around the town and the assets (at Happy Valley) and try and buy some time for a change in weather this week."

The source said a decision was made at dusk to use drones at a low level above the fire so that mapping could be relayed to aerial and ground crews about where their effort needed to be concentrated.

"They were absolutely able to track that fire better and drop water on it and just keep hitting it. 

"They knew with the resources they had and the size of the fire it was well entrenched in an area where fireys couldn't get into. So they had to do the best with what they could."

 

Urangan Point Primary School grade 3 students made these beautiful cards for the crews working hard at Happy Valley. Picture: QFES
Urangan Point Primary School grade 3 students made these beautiful cards for the crews working hard at Happy Valley. Picture: QFES

 

Elspeth Murray of the Happy Valley Community Association praised retired rural firefighter Winston Williams for penning the area's survival plan and said the night was about "neighbour protecting neighbour".

 

"It was as if we were in a war zone, there were so many aircraft going overhead," she said.

"We had ten helicopter water-drops right inside the town centre to save us from burning.

"The rural fire crew did this amazing backburn in 30 kilometre winds … (it) burnt down to where the fire was coming in and went off with a huge roar between the two fires."

 

Some of the devastation that has hit more than half of the island so far. Picture: NCA NewsWire /John Wilson
Some of the devastation that has hit more than half of the island so far. Picture: NCA NewsWire /John Wilson

 

Firefighters feel they are in a strong position this week to continue backburning, with conditions - including some rain and south-easterly winds - finally on their side.

There are currently two major fires on the island - one on the western side and another in the east.

 

 

Crews were last night holding one fire at Cornwell's Road, near Kingfisher Bay Resort. 

With a south-easterly wind on their side, their plan was to control the fire as it moved towards burnt land from the second fire at Happy Valley.

"If it cools off and you get a south-easterly, they're saying they might be able to back burn into the fire and reduce the fuel, holding it to the top half of the island," a firefighting source said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Minutes from catastrophe: How Happy Valley was saved


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