Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Toxic time for Cobram fireys at Morwell

Three Cobram firefighters have returned safe from the toxic Morwell mine fire in Gippsland.

ROBERT HENSON March 7, 2014 4:08am

Cobram firefighters join brigades from around south-east Australia to hose down smoldering coal at the Morwell mine fire.



Three Cobram firefighters have returned safe from the toxic Morwell mine fire in Gippsland.

Cobram Fire Brigade’s captain Adrian Hilder with firefighters David Beard and Jamie Rowlands answered the call, departing last Monday at 11am.

After two 12-hour shifts on Tuesday and Wednesday last week battling spot fires and toxic gases, the trio were happy to return home.

Mr Hilder said the group were tasked with watching for spot fires, assisted by the ‘‘heavy concept tanker’’ which allows remote-control fire fighting from inside the vehicle.

‘‘Our roles were mainly watching for spot over embers coming out of the mine, which, unfortunately on Tuesday, happened,’’ Mr Hilder said.

‘‘It burnt within metres of the power plant.

‘‘It was a Cobram tanker that was there at the time that it happened, so we were pretty busy for a while.’’

David Beard said the fire was unlike any other bush or grass fire the group had encountered, with fine particles of coal dust spotting over long distances.

‘‘It’s a fire that’s very difficult to put out, just smolderin’ in the cold,’’ he said.

‘‘You’ll be working on a spot fire, standing there and fire starts between your legs, that’s how difficult it was.’’

The fire crews worked two hours at a time, then an hour’s rest, to limit their exposure to harmful carbon monoxide.

Mr Hilder said gas masks were worn but there was still exposure to the toxic gas.

‘‘When there is fire, it’s not as bad. It’s when you get smoldering coal, it produces a lot of carbon monoxide.

‘‘Especially on the Tuesday, we got a fair bit of smoke inhalation, but we rested up and got checked by the nurses and were right to go.’’

Prevailing winds have been blowing the coal mine smoke and smell over the town of Morwell.

Mr Hilder said despite the dark atmosphere around town, the locals provided a warm welcome.

‘‘It was really good, even the members of the community were waving out and yelling out, saying ‘geez you’ve come a long way’ and all that.’’

Joining the fire fight were about 120 firefighters, including MFB and CFA permanent staff, Tasmania foam trucks, NSW and ACT brigades and Tullamarine aviation brigade.

About 70 service workers were also on site, catering and caring for the crews.

On Friday, Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Rosemary Lester advised people aged over 65, pre-school aged children, pregnant women and anyone with a pre-existing heart or lung conditions living or working in Morwell South to consider temporary relocation because of the fire.

‘‘There’s certain areas in the mine they’re concentrating on ... I think they need a good four or five inches of rain myself,’’ Mr Hilder said.

Mr Hilder said the reports that the fire might have been the result of an arsonist were ‘‘pretty sad’’.

‘‘It’s definitely not good down there in the conditions ... so it’s pretty sad if someone in the community is running around doing that sort of stuff.’’

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