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Mark Sutton - Taming the Cudlee Creek Beast

It was early afternoon of Friday 20 December and I was working in a CBD office that day. My phone rings and Region 4 CFS Headquarters wants a leader overnight for a Region 4 Strike Team at a big fire in the Adelaide Hills.  

Fire! What fire? I get the briefing and find out that a Region 4 Strike Team is already on its way from the Mid North and I’m going to relieve them for nightshift. This was a big one. 

I met the relief Region 4 Strike Team’s bus at the Gumeracha Oval staging point at 10pm.  The adrenalin was flowing. The outgoing Region 4 crew told stories of great saves, near misses and sad losses. It was our turn to help tame the beast; a beast that had already taken so much. 

We were sent to protect property in area between Gumeracha and Lobethal. It was burning all around us and I remember the radio was going crazy. It was a bit of a frenzy and we were keen to do our bit. Spot fires were threatening homes and assets everywhere, the local crews, who had been out on the fireground all day, were hopping between the taskings. It was a dynamic situation and it was hard to know what to do first because there was so much to do.

Around midnight, we were sent to help local landowners stop the fire advancing on the far north east flank of the fire on the other side of Birdwood. This was a real opportunity to stop this beast from getting bigger before sunrise and ahead of winds picking up. For the next six hours we worked with those landowners and we stopped the beast in its tracks. We established good solid fire-breaks and those containment lines held.  

The sun rose to an eerie calm, smoke sat in the creek lines and the smell of fire filled the air. The black was stark but the grass in the saved paddocks gave us a great sense of achievement.  

Did we tame the beast that night? History says we did not but every single firefighter who responded that day did so because they believed they could, and they really kicked that beast in the teeth.  

About the Author

Mark Sutton has served as a volunteer firefighter with the Country Fire Service since 1999 and holds the rank of Deputy Group Officer in Flinders Group located in Region 4. Based in Port Augusta, Mark is the Director of the Office for the Outback Communities Authority, a State Government Statutory Authority.