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Bushfire havoc for highway drivers

A truck amongst other traffic travels in the smoke haze on the Tasman Bridge.
A truck amongst other traffic travels in the smoke haze on the Tasman Bridge.

IT WAS as hot as hell driving along Tasmania's Arthur Hwy between Hobart and Port Arthur with many signs along the way advising the public that permits to light any fires were needed.

I did that 95km trip in late December with temperatures in the 30s but never imagined in my wildest nightmares that a week later on Friday, January 4 that all hell would break loose.

That came in the form of major bushfires and whilst it may not have been Friday the 13th - truckies and SES workers still referred to it as Black Friday.

The temperature reached 41.8 degrees, and even in places away from the front line, the sun was severe and burnt the skin even after a few minutes outside.

The former scenic town of Dunalley, about halfway along the Arthur Hwy and where Australia's smallest canal at just 400m long is, was the worst hit in terms of damage.

Authorities said 80 buildings were destroyed in the fire and another report said one fire crew was surrounded by the fire when flames swept over their truck.

Several truckies told Big Rigs the fire came so swiftly that it jumped across a canal, which many vessels in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race used to return home after the big event.

Some residents entered the ocean at Dunalley to escape the blazes and were later evacuated by sea.

It was one of the hottest days in local history and the fires also raged at nearby Forcett and at scenic Bicheno on the east coast.

The raging fire covered about 1000 hectares with strong winds spreading the flames.

Fires broke out at Lake Repulse near Mount Field National Park and at Epping Forest. Fighting the fires was made more difficult by the fact there was no running water at most of the affected areas.

Water had to be trucked there in tanks and pumped into the fire vehicles.

The highway to the Tasman Peninsula was closed for many days and hundreds of tourists were trapped there.

These tourists had visited the historical site at Port Arthur and nearby Nubeena which also had fires.

During the worst danger period locals living in the scenic Eagle Hawk Neck and Doo Town along the Tasman Peninsula were asked to evacuate.

Firefighters came from all over the Apple Isle and even Victoria and an estimated 100 units worked around the clock.

The Arthur Hwy was closed and on January 7 police allowed 111 private vehicles to drive in convoy from the Tasman Peninsula to Hobart.

That continued the next day as temperatures dropped to less than 30 degrees.

 

I visited Sorell on January 7 and saw scores of water trucks heading for the danger area further on at Forcett.

 

There were also some firefighters travelling there to relieve tired colleagues.

A smoke cloud covered the waters of the mighty Derwent River around Hobart and there was haze over the mighty Tasman Bridge.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited Dunalley and other fire affected places on January 7 and she was joined by Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings.

That afternoon I drove 40km south of Hobart to the Huon Valley region and on several occasions fire trucks with sirens sounding were on the highway.

On January 8 the Tasmanian Fire Service declared a total fire ban with resources stretched to the limit.

There was also serious fires in Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland.

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The bush fires received national and even international media coverage.

Firefighters were hailed as heroes and trucks played a vital role during and after the fires delivering water, material, food and anything needed.

They will also be a big part of the rebuilding at Dunalley.

By January 10, temperatures had dropped to 24 degrees. Mother nature can be unforgiving.

But mother nature can also be unpredictable as I discovered when I received a call from a NSW based truckie named Hunty early on January 10.

"Snow is forecast for some parts of southern Tasmania in the next few days after so many fires which I saw on the television news," he said.

Topics:  tasmanian bushfires


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