All along the watch towers

All along the watch towers

6 January 2009

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Australia — Seven fire-spotting towers, including one close to town at One Tree Hill, are in the front line protecting much of the Bendigo region from bushfires.

From these lonely sentinels every day during summer, Department of Sustainability and Environment staff watch for the puff of smoke that could be a forerunner to disaster.

The One Tree Hill tower looks across the City of Bendigo, which is ringed by the Bendigo National Park – a potential source of fire in the hotter months.

Perched in his steel tower, fire spotter Daryl Anderson has a bird’s-eye view over a 50km radius.

As soon as he sees smoke or fire he takes a bearing and is able to plot the position with the assistance of cross references from other towers.

As a former ambulance driver, Mr Anderson has a handy knowledge of the region, particularly the streets of Bendigo.

“From up here I like to think I can place a fire in Bendigo within a block,” he said.

In the past, fire spotters were usually the first to report a conflagration but now mobile phones had enabled the public to play a greater role.

“Many of these reports turn out to be not totally accurate, and care needs to be taken that what is being reported is a fire.”

Even up in the tower, distant dust could look like smoke, and sometimes the spreading of superphosphate on a farm property could be deceiving.

Mr Anderson is not reliant on computers and mobile phones.

He is in constant contact with other towers by radio and he listens in to the CFA band.

On the hour every hour all the towers call each other to ensure systems are working.

Mr Anderson said that after years of doing the job he could pick the days that spelt trouble.

“You learn to live with the ways and the sounds of the bush.

“So when I come out here in the morning, before climbing the tower, I have an idea how the day will pan out.”

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