With over 1 million hectares burnt during the 40 days of the 2003 Alpine fires, our backyard has taken a bit of a pizzeling. At Spring Spur, the Mountain Creek fire was held on our eastern property line in the second week. Thanks to the tireless efforts of CFA, DSE, helicopters and others.
The focus of the effort was constantly changing with our community under attack from the Simmonds Creek front, then an outbreak on the Tawonga Gap and another on Bogong Hill that crossed the East Kiewa River near Crankie Charlies and spread into the golf course.
Fire fighting efforts concentrated on control lines, many of which were on the private property/ public land interface, and hence little resources were available to work on the fires inside the parks. Steep, remote terrain also made such efforts too risky”. Talk about smog! We are lucky to see 200 metres, and this limited the opportunity for helicopters to work on the fires.
Our mid January tour was disrupted by the fires and after trucking the horses and transporting our riders to Falls Creek, the tour was forced to ride into the Bundarra Valley and thanks to the generosity of Helen Packer and Russell Mullet, we used their “Willows” property as a base. The riders were evacuated on the Thursday, and the Alpine road closed on the Friday as fires approached Mt Hotham. We thank our riders for their good humour and understanding. I believe the day ride to the Blue Duck Pub was shall we say “refreshing”.
The horses remained at the Willows with Helen and Russell, and of course Nereda who refused to leave them. The Willows was under threat from the southern flank of the Bogong fire for some days. The horses, Helen’s and ours were on flood-irrigated flats and safe as could be hoped.
On Australia day at approx 11am the firestorm finally swept through the Willows in the Bundarra valley fuelled by extreme northwesterly winds. Our horses had been there at Helen and Russell’s for two weeks. The firestorm burnt both sides of the Willows property to within 20 ft of the house. Nereda and Helen stayed with the horses throughout the drama much to our horror. The horses were galloping up and down the irrigated flats during the peak firestorm and settled down remarkably fast once the roar of the fire subsided. They even trotted over to the C.F.A. fire truck thinking it was dinnertime! There was some relief here at Spring Spur although the fire roared through Bogong village area and then burnt Big Hill behind the town of Mt Beauty and was an awesome spectacle from here at the homestead! A terrible south westerly came up and blew the fire back onto us.
During January and Febuary the mountains were very different place to what they were prior to the fires. With dozens of communities under siege, many roads closed, business’s shut down and the new school year delayed, life was far from normal. We remained constantly vigilant for ember attack; maintaining water supplies, pump primes and precautions around buildings.
The condition of the Park, our beautiful camps, many huts and old yards is still mostly unknown. All tracks in burnt areas will be cleared of fallen timber this spring. From assessing fire maps that are available, the impact is across the entire area of our operations. We will be running a full program of rides from December 2003 and look forward to witnessing first hand the post fire mountains.