Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (12:46): I rise to support the Fire and Emergency Services (Governance) Amendment Bill. I say this as an active member of the Country Fire Service, and I applaud not only everything the Country Fire Service and all our emergency services do, particularly in this difficult time of COVID-19, but also all those people who choose to deploy in farm fire units. I want to discuss, as part of my contribution on this bill, some of the recent fires or mopping-up operations I have been involved in. One was on 19 November, the Yumali-Netherton fire, which did not get a lot of media because there was something else in the news, a pause with COVID.
It was interesting because we were not supposed to be seeing anyone. Thankfully, we had gone home from estimates in this place and I rang my boys, because they were here for school and university, and said, 'Get home,' because they had harvest jobs. With COVID, we are never too sure what is going on: you only have to look at what goes on at the Victorian border between our state and Victoria to know that things can change day by day or part way through the day.
We were home on the 19th and, as I have indicated in the house before, a powerline dropped into a crop a bit towards the south-east of us, not many kilometres down the road, so we attended that with our private unit. What I did not realise until well after the event was that a young lad, young Harrison Rowntree who was also out fighting the fire, took some excellent drone footage. If you go on Facebook, you can see the aftermath of that fire. He took a photo of me and Mack, my eldest son, and the Neumanns, Alistair and David, his father, when we were saving a house on the Leinert property, which used to be my friends Gary and Karen Sommerville's house.
I know that we are not supposed to have displays, but I have a picture showing graphic portrayal of fire coming down through the scrub, and the house is just over my shoulder up a bit above me. We are pumping water from one unit to the other to do our best as a private unit to save that house.
I have fought a few fires. I have had a few burn-offs go astray as well and have fought them to save the situation, but this was probably the toughest time, where I nearly made a decision to pull out from fighting the fire. With me, I had my 19-year-old lad, Mack, driving in his first big event, and I had young Angus, aged 16, on the back. They did a very commendable job, a fantastic job, in chasing that fire. When it got too rough to chase it out on the fire ground, we got out of there because of the radiant heat.
There were several burns injuries. Thankfully, Damian Heym is home, but he spent quite a lot of time in the Royal Adelaide burns unit. I cannot speak highly enough of the burns unit in the Royal Adelaide that was transferred from the old Royal Adelaide Hospital. Damian is home in a full-length bodysuit because he got burnt when he was caught outside a vehicle. He wears gloves as well, and I think he has to have them on for up to two years, but thankfully he is still alive.
I have mentioned in a grieve here before about two women who were caught in a utility. They could not get away to the east from the fire, and as the fire came at them from the west they kept the windows shut and the fire went over the top. They got out of the ute and were unscathed, which was almost a miracle. It was the best decision they made in the end: they got out of that utility and got onto burnt ground, and the ute burnt to the ground.
A lot of stock was lost—we shot a lot of stock the next day, hundreds of stock—and a lot of fences. The closest we got to losing a house in the 30-kilometre blaze that raged for four hours was that the fire blew the windows out of a house as it passed and then torched a shed, which had a New Holland harvester in it. From memory, I think it was a TR87—a pretty burnt New Holland that was never going to reap another crop, sadly, when I saw it later on at the Johnson property.
There was a time when we were between the fire, and it was only about 10 metres or so between a quite high scrub line of trees and the house. If we had not had rollout lines, hose reels, I would have pulled out, but we had the hose reels and we managed to tone the fire down—it was vicious. My brother got burnt and another lady and another lad were burnt. The other day, I saw my brother's hand that was burnt and it looks like it will to come to a full recovery. He will have to wear a glove for probably most of this year, but he is certainly not too badly affected.
It was a great cooperative approach between the CFS units and the farm firefighter units. It is acknowledged that a lot of the farmers in my area, or several of them at least, now own ex-CFS units. They are still very capable fire trucks because they do not have a lot of kilometres on them when they come out of their time with the CFS, after maybe 20 years or so, and still can carry a lot of water.
This bill is a bit about the management of fires and the bureaucracy around it, but when it gets down to making sure the action hits the ground you have to put the wet stuff on the hot stuff. For everyone who is out there on the fire front, I commend them. I must again commend all those units that came in the strike teams, whether it was from the South-East, Port Augusta or from the Hills. I think the Salisbury brigade was down there, and I saw one fire truck from the south of Adelaide, but there were many I would not have seen because they would have been in different sectors of that 30-kilometre run of fire.
I also managed to assist with the mopping-up of Kangaroo Island last year. That was a horrendous fire. I would hate to think what it was like with the Kangaroo Island fire coming at you. It was totally devastating, burning hundreds of thousands of acres of land—500,000 acres, I think it was. It was devastation across the board.
I must commend how it was managed and the mopping-up, with the controller at our base, which was quite a few kilometres outside Kingscote. At times there was a little bit of levity, which you need sometimes in these situations. We rescued a koala one day, and then other trucks realised we were going to the Parndana animal welfare centre, so next thing we had bags of possums on board, and for the rest of my time on Kangaroo Island, our truck, Swan Reach 14, was known as 'Swan Reach international rescue'. So there you go. It was interesting to get that banter from the controllers and just to have a little bit of lightheartedness in a delicate situation.
I must commend everyone, not only those on the island who were there fighting for their livelihoods and their land and houses and properties—and there were so many properties lost and lives lost, the Lang family with two lives gone; it is very sad—but all the people from the mainland who went over: the MFS, the CFS and there would have been private units. We had the plane boys in the area, Aerotech and others.
I have mentioned in this place before the help from the Defence Force. There were a lot of men and women from way up north. I cannot remember whether they were from Townsville or Darwin. They might have been from Darwin, I think. They always have bags ready to go to help out with tsunamis or cyclones, but they said, 'We've never been deployed for fire before.' Their work was absolutely commendable as we all got together to make sure we could help with the mopping-up.
We would go up separate roads at times, put out hotspots and come back the next day because this fire was sometimes burning up to 18 inches (45 centimetres) into the ground because there was so much litter, leaf litter and that sort of thing. You know there is a big event happening when the anchor chains come out, the old anchor chains that have not been used since about 1980 for scrub clearing, and the dozers knock down a whole strip next to the Vivonne Bay road as an emergency firebreak. You know it is happening. That is when, as they say—I was going to use another word, but it is unparliamentary—it is happening.
I ran into a local contractor on one side of the road and the Army D6 (a bulldozer) on the other knocking down some big gum trees for the emergency firebreak for Kingscote. That is how sensitive that matter was. We have certainly had fires through the Hills around that time as well, the Cudlee Creek fire. I have spoken here before about how everyone, private owners but the CFS mainly, saved Harrogate.
I still shake my head in disbelief that Harrogate was saved. Yes, there were considerable losses around the town, but have a look where the burn mark comes, right up to the edge of the town, right around the town, 360⁰. I am forever amazed at the challenges. I know some of the first trucks that went in were going down roads and they were just told, 'Get ahead of it. Yes, there will be losses behind you as you go past, but you have to get ahead of it and try to save what you can.'
That is the thing, that people can never think that the CFS will always be there to save you, because it is just impossible in these big events. Yes, I think a lot of the CFS personnel—in fact, virtually all of them—are superhuman people, but there is only so much you can do, as we found at the recent Yumali-Netherton fire, when it just gets too ridiculous out in the paddock trying to save crops, stubbles and fencing, so you just try to save sheds and houses.
We had the Cherry Gardens fire recently. It looks like that was, from all reports, lit by an arsonist, and I have all sorts of things to say about the way that person should be dealt with, but I will not mention them here. I must commend everyone who got involved in that fire, whether it is the people on the ground or in the planes. They were very commendable efforts. I seek leave to continue my remarks.