A busy few days at Charles Darwin Reserve

on 11 Feb 2015 
Burnt area
Burnt shrublands
A malleefowl spotted on the way home

Over the past few weeks the inland region of mid-west Western Australia has been experiencing some extreme weather with average temperatures during the day around 44.C and evenings  dropping to the high 20s. It even reached 50.1 degrees a few weeks back. Both Charles Darwin and Eurardy Reserve have been very hot places to be 2015.

Accompanying these hot summer days has been frequent and persistent thunderstorm activity each evening. Over the past three weeks this ‘build up’ of cloud and storm activity has delivered over 60mm of rain to Eurardy Reserve and 32mm to Charles Darwin Reserve.

Over the past weeks most evenings have been spent watching the electrical storms that spread themselves across the horizon. These storms bring anticipation, relief, concern and sometimes provide lots of work to keep Reserve Managers very busy.

On Sunday the 8th of February a storm was brewing across the landscape. Clouds were towering over Ninghan Hill and neighbouring Wanarra Station while the setting sun created the most wonderful atmosphere and colour. It was awe inspiring.

We had dark black clouds, thunder, lightning, rainbows and wind. The electrical storm was most impressive with lightning running from cloud to the ground and across the sky itself in what is known as intra cloud lightning. As we were enjoying the brewing storm my wife, Fiona, myself and the kids were also well aware of what this type of weather can mean - bushfires and damage to remote area power systems.

On this particular Sunday Charles Darwin Reserve experienced a storm that started a small  fire and blew out our power infrastructure.

The fire started as a result of a lightning strike and ignited approximately 10kn north east of the main homestead. After noticing the rising smoke contact was made with the neighbours and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES). An early response team made up of Mount Gibson Mining, DFES Paynes Find, Top Iron and Bush Heritage Australia assessed the situation and got close enough to the fire to assess scale and plan an appropriate response.

After making our way along a very old prospecting track the response team ascertained that the fire was moving in a northerly direction and at about 2km per hour. From our vantage point, patches of york gum woodland could be seen exploding into flames and then dying down again.

After deciding there was nothing further we could do due to the terrain and our limited equipment we decided to head back to the main road. We then saw falls of about 5mm of rain on the fire, which allowed us to all head home that evening feeling relatively relaxed and committed to keeping an eye on the situation over the next couple of days.

Driving home the storm continued to build and it was a refreshing feeling after the initial concern of a wild fire near station infrastructure. After arriving home, and greeting Fiona, and my kids, Tanami and Banjo, it became apparent that we needed to quickly move indoors as the storm was becoming violent with lightning and wind that was erratic and directly overhead. The only other similar storm I've experienced was in the Daly River region of the Northern Territory and that was a cyclone.

Once we were huddled at the protected window, dogs locked in the bathroom we settled in to watch the light show and crossed our fingers for a downpour of rain. I was hoping for a couple of inches at least!

However, as soon as we were comfortable and secretly looking forward to the storm passing we saw a huge flash of lightning, heard an almighty 'POP' and all our power went out! Lightning had hit the homestead at Charles Darwin Reserve.

As we got the torches out I was thinking, 'I really do hope all I have to do is flick a few circuit breakers back on to get power restored'. However, I knew in the back of my mind that direct strikes can do enormous damage to electrical systems and wiring.

It was hard to get out and assess the situation as powerful lightning persisted for many hours. After realising that I wasn't going to be able to get the power on, we all slept through a very hot night without fans or air conditioning.

In the morning - the calm after the storm - it became clear that a lightning strike had destroyed our solar power system, phone line, air conditioner and generator control panel. With the help of some neighbours and using some 'good old bush mechanics' we managed to start the generator by by-passing the electronic control board. Power was restored relatively quickly, but it will take several weeks for the complete power system to be reinstated.

After the basic power system was up and going, and the kids back at school, smoke began to rise again from the fire that started the previous day. On Monday evening it was decided by DFES that a strategic containment line was needed to prevent the fire from spreading.

Bush Heritage worked with DFES and Mount Gibson Mining over the following days and we've managed to prevent the fire from developing further. We believe about 800ha has been burnt – a small fire in the scheme of things. We'll all be keeping an eye on fire for the next week as hot and increasingly windy weather develops. It was a great team effort, with thanks going to the Department of Fire and Emergecy Services, led by Rick Ryan.

Fires are an important part of the Australian Bush and responses to wildfire are always about protecting infrastructure and human life.

Burnt area
Burnt shrublands
A malleefowl spotted on the way home