The job of getting fuel to fire-affected areas

Sarah Luke

RAAF Base, East Sale, is part of a massive Defence effort

Providing a listening ear and a helping hand for fire evacuee.

Milder conditions, but fire activity still sigificant

MELBOURNE boy Daniel Cateley never expected to go camping in Gippsland under these circumstances.

Now an Army Captain based in Amberley near Brisbane, Captain Cateley and his crew of 17 personnel have been manning a pop-up bulk fuel installation at RAAF Base, East Sale, around the clock, providing fuel to the Australian Defence Force’s Operation Bushfire Assist.

Part of the Army’s 9th Force Support Battalion, the team’s role involves filling smaller bladders with diesel and unleaded petrol for transport to isolated communities, like Mallacoota, to power generators until mains power is restored.

A logistic element to the operation, the task is probably not the first that comes to the general public’s mind when considering the role the ADF is currently playing, but it is a crucial one those on the ground are extremely grateful for.

At least six people have to remain with the 136,000 litres of fuel at all times, even camping in site within a few strides, so they can provide an immediate response should a spill or fire occur.

A 40,000 litre bladder of water and firefighting gear are primed and ready, in case of an accident.

In Mallacoota, a small element of the same team is on the ground managing the transported fuel, some days working up to 20 hours to keep power running.

On Wednesday, operations had been temporarily halted because of the smoky conditions, but the team was ready to go at a minute’s notice.

So far, it has transported tens of thousands of litres of unleaded and diesel fuel across east Gippsland and north-eastern Victoria.

“It’s been pretty full on,” Captain Cateley said.

While he didn’t get to take his leave over the New Year, Captain Cateley said he didn’t mind.

“It’s extremely rewarding, something I’ve always wanted to do – help people in my own country.”