Sir Ivan Dougherty Fire, Coonabarabran, NSW 13 Feb – 23 Feb 2017

By Heike Apps


On Sunday Feb 12 ESA received a request for MAPS personnel to assist with the Sir Ivan Fire in Coonabarabran. A section 44 had been declared and they required mapping resources. Alec and I were flown up on a chartered flight early Monday, arriving at Coonabarabran at 10:30 and welcomed at the FCC at 11.30 by a relieved Operations Manager. We immediately began fire and directory familiarisation then mapping, mapping and more mapping.

Transport to Coonabarabran for Alec and Heike

Working at the FCC

The Sir Ivan fire had already spread into 3 shires and over 49,000 Ha. It was divided into 3 divisions, each managed by a different FCC, with the northern (and largest) division managed in Coonabarabran. There was a fair bit of catch-up to do in regards to mapping, and communications between the three FCCs was important so all info was kept up to date.
The next few days were all about updating the fire edge, burnt area, adding control lines, threatened assets etc. Three linescans a day were received to aid fire updates. Maps were required several times a day of whole fire area and each of the nine sectors. As many crews were out of area, we also provided maps to show directions to the divisions and sectors. It became apparent on the first day that more mapping resources were required, to provide mapping 24 hours a day. Erik and Simon from ESA arrived and we did a swing shift – 8 hours each plus a 2 hour overlap at end of shift to ensure continuous mapping operations. In the first couple of days we had issues (on occasion) with the ArcGIS licence manager but these were quickly resolved by NSWRFS GIS group in Sydney.
Due to the volume of people in the FCC two large marquees were set up for the Planning and Logistics units. Mapping however stayed with Operations in the FCC due to faster internet speeds there. It also made it easier to update maps from the operations board. Maps (both hardcopy and digital) were constantly produced for the IAP, pilots, public liaison, IMT, and strike team leaders. As the fire was brought under control, hotspot data was collected (FLIR) and added, along with data from back burn and other offensive strategies.
Due to the size of the fire and the losses there were several visits from the NSW RFS Commissioner, varying news groups and the Premier. Maps were produced for these occasions, mainly using linescan to show the intensity and rapid spread rate of the fire, particularly on Sunday 12 Feb.
On Friday 17th Sep there was considerable thunderstorm activity. Soon the map was overwhelmed with several hundred lightning strikes. Half a dozen of these created new fires, but all were controlled fairly quickly. Only one, a fast moving grass fire at Boogadah caused concern for several hours. Another problem created by the thunderstorms was that part of the fireground received 50mm rain and hail, creating very boggy conditions in the south and east divisions.

Linescan image taken on Sunday 12 Feb

The final size of the Sir Ivan fire was over 52,000 Ha. As fire activity slowed down into the second week, the number of people in the IMT reduced. The last couple of days saw 1 remaining MAPS person as the nightshift IMT crew was considerably reduced.
By the 19th Feb the fire was fully contained, ie a mineral earth track was completed around the perimeter. The work was much less hectic so I spent some time gathering and sorting information from GPS tracks and linescans and started mapping this data to show how fast the fire had spread. This information proved particularly useful to the IC in communications with landowners and other parties. The Section 44 was revoked on Wed 22 Feb and the last MAPS person travelled home. As always, we were well looked after by both ESA and NSW RFS.