Joining forces

The Army and Air Force has added to the massive heavy machinery contingent on the ground across the Dunns Road Fire.

Tumut is experiencing a joint-force effect as Army and Air Force engineers unite to build a fire containment line beginning in the Bondo Forest.

The work is being undertaken by engineers from No. 65 Squadron, who provide Air Force’s airfield engineering capabilities, and Brisbane-based specialists from Army’s 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment.

The firebreak is designed to protect remaining unaffected softwood plantations in the region.

Already some 35 per cent of the timber has been lost to the fires, and the loss of the Bondo Forest would be devastating for the economy of the area, where employment is heavily reliant on the mills across the region.

The soldiers, airwomen and airmen are working under the guidance of local forestry officials.

For Forestry Corporation supervisor Russell Wall, the arrival of Defence personnel is a big boost.

“We’re trying to make a cleared line about 40 metres wide,” he said.

“The aim is to protect the timber and prevent the fire moving north to Canberra.

“It’s fantastic to have the military here, because timing is paramount with these operations – the dozer line needs to be put in quick, otherwise the fire will breach it.

“To have these resources come in on top of our existing resources is invaluable, it could mean the difference between the line being successful or unsuccessful.”

Forestry and its contractors had already spent the last week establishing containment lines in the forest, part of a huge fleet of heavy machinery working across the Dunns Road fire.

Personnel from 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment are also providing aid elsewhere around Tumut, with fodder being moved from Holbrook to Willigobung, and combat engineers are clearing fallen trees in Batlow.

An Army chaplain is also in the area, providing a source of comfort to those in need of care and a friendly chat to help unburden their feelings of loss.

As the Air Force’s airbase recovery function, No. 65 Squadron’s personnel are experienced in maintaining, constructing and recovering airbase infrastructure such as landing strips, building pads and clearing greenfield sites. They also have the ability to repair structures and establish power and water connections.

Travelling down the Hume Highway with the first of the plant equipment to be transported to Tumut, works supervisor Corporal Ryan McMurtrie reflected on the opportunity to be a part of Operation Bushfire Assist over the coming days and potentially weeks.

“Our unit is proud to be assisting the effected communities in the Tumut area,” he said.

“We’re proud to support and be working alongside emergency services personnel, especially exhausted NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer firefighters.

“Our team trains to operate in difficult environments to help build and maintain infrastructure, including providing power, water, shelter and road access.

“We’re privileged to be playing an integral part in protecting and rebuilding these communities.”

Part of the Air Force’s Combat Support Group, No. 65 Squadron is based at RAAF Base Richmond in Sydney, with elements in Orchard Hills and RAAF Base Townsville, Queensland.

The Squadron’s Airbase Recovery Team and Blade Teams consist of plant operators, tradespersons (primarily electricians, plumbers and carpenters) and a works supervisor.

They will be operating a dozer, loader, grader and chainsaws to construct the fire break near Tumut, which will ultimately be some 70km long, in the hope that it will act as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of any bushfires that threaten the area.