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The Christmas Fires of 2006







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January 4, 2007. - Fire crews and residents around the Walhalla area have enjoyed a welcome respite in the Christmas - New Year week. The Walhalla Goldfields Railway has issued a press release below outlining their plans to continue to run a restricted service from Walhalla to Happy Creek, and the Department of Sustainability and Environment and Country Fire Authority have released the following joint statement on the Walhalla, Erica and Aberfeldy townships:

Thursday, 4 January 2007 -- 15:30 hrs

Cooler conditions after Christmas and New Years have slowed wildfire activity surrounding the townships of Walhalla, Rawson, Erica, Aberfeldy, Toombon and Donnelly's Creek. Fire crews have concentrated their efforts on blacking out around Walhalla and the construction of control lines required to protect private property and historical features around the mining townships of Aberfeldy, Toombon, and Donnelly's Creek.

Backburning operations have increased significantly in state forest and private property north of Rawson, Walhalla and immediately adjacent to Aberfeldy. Improved conditions are forecast for the next two days ahead of a mild south-west change, with temperatures expected in the low to mid 30’s.

Residents in these areas should expected to experience smoky conditions once again and should stay vigilant and activate their fire plans.

25 Northern Territory fire fighters and 2 CFA strike teams have arrived to assist with asset protection works conducting overnight back burns around the township of Aberfeldy. Back burns to the south of Aberfeldy are continuing successfully with the intent of joining up to burns north of Walhalla over the next two weeks. This will contain the western perimeter of the Great Divide South Fire Complex. Travellers should note that roads north to Aberfeldy and the Thomson Dam from the Parkers Corner intersection [at Rawson] remain closed to the public.

Access to the township of Walhalla is available, however motorists should be aware of fire traffic and heavy machinery using this road. Please obey all road closure and speed restriction signs in this area and put your lights during smoky conditions.

For information on fires in Victoria and general fire safety, please contact the Victorian Bushfire Information Line (VBIL) on freecall 1800 240 667. Callers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech / communication impairment may call textphone/ telewriter (TTY) on 1800 122 969.

Information is also available at www.dse.vic.gov.au/fires or www.cfa.vic.gov.au.




WGR Press Release

The Walhalla Goldfields Railway has issued the following Press Release:

Thursday, 4 January 2007 -- 15:30 hrs
Walhalla Goldfields Railway

31 December, 2006
28 January, 2007

Amended passenger timetable
Walhalla - Happy Creek

Due to bushfires which have destroyed one bridge and some track, trains have not operated for the past few weeks. The Walhalla Goldfields Railway will recommence an interim shuttle service from Walhalla to Happy Creek and return effective from Sunday 31 December. The line between Thomson and Happy Creek is closed until the burnt bridge is replaced and track repairs are carried out.

  • All trains will originate from and return to Walhalla Station. Passengers cannot join the train at Happy Creek.
  • Trains will not operate on days where a Total Fire Ban is declared for the entire State or within the CFA Eastern Region.
  • At Happy Creek, passengers must remain on the train for safety reasons.
  • Passengers should arrive at Walhalla station at least 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time.


Walhalla depart:
11.00am, 12.00pm, 1.00pm, 2.00pm, 3.00pm, 4.00pm
Happy Creek arrive:
11.10, 12.10, 1.10, 2.10, 3.10, 4.10
11.20, 12.20, 1.20, 2.20, 3.10, 4.20
Walhalla return:
11.40am, 12.40pm, 1.40pm, 2.40pm, 3.40pm, 4.40pm

        ADULTS $10.00, CHILD/CONCESSION $8.00, FAMILY $22.00


A few pictures (worth several thousand words) below show the fire advancing up the valley and approaching the railway, backburning to protect the Happy Creek station and its aftermath a day later. These perhaps explain why the service will only be running as far as Happy Creek until further notice, and illustrate how fortunate the Railway was in not sustaining any further damage than they did.




Crisis? What crisis?

December 24, 2006. - Despite what you might have heard on the radio or seen on some sensationalistic -- albeit, typically very photogenic -- TV coverage, Walhalla survived the Christmas week bushfires across the Alps virtually unscathed, and remains steadfastly OPEN and ready to welcome visitors. You would need to look very hard to see any evidence in the main street of the army of helpers who defended the town so successfully (see photos below), and even the Walhalla Goldfields Railway, who sustained the only significant damage in the loss of one of their furthest trestle bridges, will continue to operate excursion trains from Walhalla station to Happy Creek from New Year's Eve until the damage can be repaired. Check the railway's website for their latest information.

A press release from the Walhalla and Mountain Rivers Tourism Associations details the present state of the town as follows:

The main Walhalla Road will reopen at 3 pm today [Dec 24th] to all traffic. We do ask however for visitors to be mindful of the increased traffic on the road as CFA, DSE, police and heavy vehicles will be using the road through Walhalla to access the alps to the north of the town.

  • Most businesses in Walhalla Historic Township will reopen their doors on Boxing Day after enjoying a brief break from the fires and Christmas Day. All campers to the area should note that campfires have been banned in the Walhalla, Erica, Rawson and Coopers Creek areas until 31 March, 2007.

  • The Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine will be open for the holidays and conducting mine tours daily as of 26 December at 12 noon, 2 pm and 3 pm.

  • The Walhalla Goldfields Railway unfortunately sustained severe damage to one bridge that will need to be replaced. The Walhalla Goldfields Railway hopes to start a shuttle service from Walhalla to Happy Creek and return on 31 December. Work has started immediately to replace the fire damaged bridge and these works will hopefully be completed within 3 weeks.

"Visitors to Walhalla Historic Township are advised that the bitumen road (the main Walhalla Road) is open, however ALL vehicle tracks and the Alpine Walking Track beyond Walhalla are closed", said Michael Leaney, President of the Walhalla & Mountain Rivers Tourism Association. "We want to warmly welcome people to the township, but we don’t want people wandering off into the bush around us. It’s potentially very dangerous ... the police will be patrolling the area and they will issue on-the-spot fines to anyone who chooses to ignore a "ROAD CLOSED" or a "NO ENTRY" sign", he added.

The road to Coopers Creek is open from the Walhalla Road but access from the Tyers-Rawson Road will remain closed in the short term. The Copper Mine Hotel at Coopers Creek will reopen on Boxing Day.

For a quick overview of the way this week unfolded in Walhalla, you can read the following reports. And if you're still not convinced that we made it through the week without even singeing our eyebrows -- well, the roads are open again, so why don't you come up and see for yourself -- soon!




A close call

December 22, 2006. - We had fire on the doorstep during the week, and the residents and defenders will be looking forward to a sound night's sleep by now. Their efforts to minimize fire damage are to be roundly applauded. The following photos will give you a flavour of the atmosphere in the town as the Coopers Creek fire came up to the railway end of town on the Thursday before Christmas. (As one wag said, "It's a great atmosphere, too, because at least you can see what you're breathing!").

Looks a bit toxic, you think? Rest assured, by the time you get up there, it'll be nothing but crisp, clean mountain air again, so what are you waiting for?




December 16, 2006. - This has been a costly and destructive week throughout Gippsland as bushfires, most of them started by lightning strikes, have consumed more than half a million hectares of bushland from one end of Gippsland to another. As far away as the suburbs of Melbourne, and even as far west as Ballarat and as far north as Wodonga, people have woken to the smell of smoke and the sight of sunlight strongly filtered by a dense haze. In Walhalla, we were fortunate that our valley is protected for the most part from the recurring threat of fires, which are usually driven by strong north-westerly winds. But we've recently been singed more than once, and we know that our good luck, and our reliance on the promptness, enthusiasm and expertise of the predominantly-volunteer fire-fighting organisations doesn't mean that we don't need to be constantly vigilant during such periods.

Walhalla's constantly vigilant all-volunteer fire crew.

Fortunately, Walhalla's residents are very conscious of the dangers, and have had abundant opportunity to prepare for whatever the weather might bring into the valley. Carefully developed fire plans have helped to avoid the additional stress of not knowing what to do when danger appears. However, this week the hazards were felt even more keenly than usual, due to two very nearby fires, both of which occurred on one of our worst days for bushfires so far this year.

A fire that was thought to have been deliberately lit near the Boola Boola Winery on the Walhalla - Tyers Road at about 11:30 am on Thursday, 14th December, was quickly carried across the road and down into Coopers Creek by the south-westerly wind, which then swung around to the northwest and gained strength in the afternoon to take the flames south and east at a breakneck pace to threaten Cowwarr and Toongabbie, where it destroyed several houses, burnt out many thousands of hectares, and in fact resulted in the unfortunate death of a man who had come to the aid of a friend who lived at Seaton.

The speed of the fire down the Tyers Road can be judged by how much upper vegetation wasn't burnt.

A further fire started on the wall of the Thomson Dam only a few kilometers to the north-east of Walhalla later in the same afternoon, when the changing wind brought a tree down onto power lines. Although the fire is nominally controlled at the moment, there's no saying that that situation couldn't be quite different for this fire (and others) in the space of a day or two, given a repeat of last week's torrid weather.

Like all fires in heavy bush, this one can be expected to continue to smoulder in burnt-out tree trunks and fallen branches until soaking rain -- remember rain? -- arrives to completely extinguish it. Until then, it could be revived at any point by the simple addition of hot weather and strong winds, so residents and visitors alike are reminded to maintain their vigilance at all times. Summer, after all, has barely begun, and like everybody else, we are likely to find ourselves at our most exposed in the early months of the new year.




Our contribution -- A Fire Break Bake-Off!

While Walhalla remains open for business and to date has not been directly affected, the entire Walhalla community (of 12) is fully aware of the effect that fires have on the lives and livelihoods of those under fire attack. We can sympathize, because in January 2006, Walhalla was cut off for 10 days by the Moondarra fire, and it has taken months for Walhalla to recover.

As a sign of goodwill, and to extend the hand of friendship and hope across the Victorian Alps, Walhalla will be conducting the "Walhalla Fire Break Bake-Off" on Tuesday, 19 December, 2006. Our aim is to bake 5,000 "Fire Break" biscuits in Walhalla and then to distribute them to fire fighters, volunteers and support staff in the North-East and throughout Gippsland ... all on Tuesday, 19th December.

The kitchens of the Walhalla General Store, Walhalla Lodge Hotel, Walhalla’s Star Hotel and Long Tunnel Cafe will start baking at one minute past midnight on Tuesday and will continue until we’re done. A packing and distribution centre will be set up in the Walhalla Mechanics Institute. The "Walhalla Fire Break Bake-Off" is a totally community-driven effort with the whole town joining in to contribute ... we hope that our "Fire Break" biscuits will provide a welcome break to those fighting the fires and will perhaps protect Walhalla from these dreadful fires.

We want to lift people’s spirits with a small gift from our "Valley of the Gods". Perhaps the spirits of Walhalla will bring some divine intervention in the form of rain too!

The Walhalla Heritage and Development League and the town's residents and traders extend their sympathies to those who have experienced loss as a direct result of these fires. This bake-off is one way that we can demonstrate that our thoughts are with those who continue to struggle against them.

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