The Country Fire Service (CFS) Hermitage Brigade, situated in the locality of Upper Hermitage, was established in late 1975 by locals and land owners who were threatened by the Para Wirra fire of 1975. From these beginnings, the brigade has expanded and grown far further. The brigade currently has two appliances, Hermitage 34, and Hermitage 14, with 40 active volunteer members.
On Tuesday the 12th of January, as part of our weekly training, Hermitage Brigade members were given the opportunity to travel to, and climb to the top of, the Mount Lofty Fire Spotting Tower.
The Mount Lofty Fire Spotting Tower is located adjacent to the Mount Lofty Summit, a popular attraction due to it highest peak in Adelaide. This strategic placement of the Fire Tower allows it to have commanding views over Adelaide, inland to Mount Barker and across Gulf St Vincent, making it the highest structure in Adelaide.
The fire tower reaches up to 34 meters (112 feet) in height, and was put into operation in 1982 by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The fire tower was initially manned by paid staff, from both the NPWS, and the CFS, but due to financial shortfalls, the tower was left unmanned. To take advantage of the fire towers speciality, volunteers from the Friends of Cleland Conservation Park, made up of mostly local residents, manned the fire tower on days of high fire danger, based on a roster system. To formalise these informal arrangements put in place with the NPWS, the volunteers founded a CFS brigade in November 2000, with one of those founding members now being the Hermitage Brigade Captain. Present day, the tower is operated on high fire risk days and is manned by CFS volunteers, whom are part of the Mount Lofty Fire Tower CFS Brigade.
The Tower is the focal point for all fire spotting activities throughout the Mount Lofty Ranges which was largely affected by the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires. The brigade members there told stories of the Ash Wednesday fires, reciting that the flames around them blazed further than 10 meters above the fire tower itself, reaching an astonishing 45 metres in height.
When a fire is spotted, the members manning the fire tower determine a bearing and distance of the fire and dial through to Adelaide Fire, where SACAD will respond the appropriate CFS brigades. Their average time from a fire spotted to responding a brigade is one minute.
From the top of the tower in the observation capsule, which has glass panes all around, you are given an astonishing 360° view of Adelaide and the remote towns around you for a distance of 25km. On a clear day, you can see as far as the coastline of the Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island, and the sand dunes along the Coorong, viewing a total distance of 100kms. To assist the tower in fire spotting, the fire tower brigade were donated a set of Military Range-Finding Binoculars valued at over $40,000, which have been exceptionally useful for improving the accuracy of their sightings and GPS coordinates of fires.
Hermitage Brigade members learnt about the operations of the fire tower and how the process of reporting a fire from the tower works, which was a great training opportunity for Hermitage Brigade Members.
The Hermitage Brigade would like to thank the members from the Mount Lofty Fire Tower Brigade for their time, the opportunity, and for allowing them to gain an insight into the workings and history of the tower.
Photos and Article by Kane Abraham, Hermitage CFS.