Lithgow RRT – State Mine Fire Emergency RFS Support Operations
The ‘State Mine’ bushfire started in the Marrangaroo Army Range north of Lithgow around midday on Wednesday 16th October. By Thursday morning the fire posed a threat to property on the outskirts of Lithgow, and by mid-afternoon, fanned by strong hot winds gusting beyond 90km/h, had impacted a number of properties in the town, destroying a couple of business premises and severely damaging the Zig Zag Railway.
Come nightfall the fire front had passed the north-eastern limits of the town and was surging through bushland along the Bells Line of Road to the east of the Lithgow, destroying 3 homes in the townships of Clarence and Newnes Junction. The following 7 days saw the fire continuing to burn to the east through bushland along the Bells Line of Road, threatening the townships of Bell, Mt Wilson, Mt Tomah, Berambing & Bilpin.
After a week the fire had burnt through more than 50,000 hectares (500km2), and continued to smoulder way out in the southern regions of the Wollemi wilderness north of the Bells Line of Road.
The RRT operation in Lithgow was mobilised with a request from the Rural Fire Service around midday on Thursday 16th October for us to assist the local Lions Club with lunches for crews, and be ready to cater for up to 200 fire crew at the catering hall at Lithgow Showground at 5pm. By 10pm that night we had fed 300 firefighters in total, including 5 mobile teams delivering hot meals and refreshments to crews on the fireground, as service which we ran at lunch and dinner for the first 4 days.
Come 7pm we were asked to assist with breakfast, and to set up 150 camp beds supplied by the RFS in the adjoining ballroom at the Showground. From that night on, with the assistance of the Lithgow Lions Club, the RRT was responsible for catering and accommodation for out-of-area fire crews from Western NSW, Victoria and Tasmania who were billeted at Lithgow over the next 9 days.
The scope of operations continued to grow daily as more teams arrived to join the firefighting effort, and catering for the fire crews at the remote hamlet of Mt Wilson was added to our list by Blue Mountains RFS Command on Friday. On Sunday night tea our catering numbers peaked at 600 hot meals and by Wednesday night our accommodation reached capacity at 280 beds for fire crews working both day & night shifts.
RRT volunteers from Bathurst, Katoomba, Orange and Sydney joined in with the Lithgow folks, working alongside local volunteers from Lithgow Lions Club and the local community.
The menu began fairly predictably with meals of steak, sausages and burgers, but by day 2 we could see that we were in for the long haul and some variety was needed! To the delight of the crews, we began serving more ‘interesting’ meals including beef & chicken stirfrys, roast chicken with fried rice, with trifles, chocolate brownie and ice-creams. Bulk doughnuts donated by Krispy Kreme, Gatorade and Drumstick ice-creams were a hit with the teams on the fireground, and RFS began to receive enquiries at the morning crew briefings regarding what was on the menu for tea!
With the invaluable assistance of a champion sandwich-making team arranged by the Lithgow Lions Club, we provided up to 500 lunches (1000 sandwiches) daily to firefighters, SES teams, Police patrols and Forestry NSW crews.
By day 4 donations were flooding in from the community, with local folks and businesses as far away as Bathurst and Orange sending in food, fruit and even toiletries for the crews. Local groups including Lithgow Baptist Church organised central collection points and brought donations to us in batches, which was a major help when we reached the stage of receiving half a shipping container of donations daily.
After 7 days the orders for partial de-mobilisation orders came through from the RFS following better weather conditions on Thursday, and on Saturday morning we served the last breakfast to 40 firefighters before packing up.
- 10 days / 9 nights
- 8100 meals provided
- Max 280 accommodated per night
- Average 63 volunteers per day, average 5-6 hour shifts
- More than 3000 volunteer hours in total
- Breakfast shift started 4.30am, 2nd tea shift finished 12am.
The sincere thanks of the Lithgow RRT to every volunteer and member of the Lithgow community who donated their time and/or goods to this effort, and also to Lithgow City Council for providing the facilities and support needed to cater for and accommodate the RFS crews.