As the immediate bushfire threats in many areas subside, recovery efforts score success after success and residents and holiday-makers return in earnest, ADF and civic leaders begin to plan for the inevitable military withdrawal.
CAPTION: Australian Army soldiers deployed with Joint Task Force 646.5, supported by medics; petroleum operator elements of 7 Combat Service Support Battalion north of Abbeyard in support of Operation Bushfire Assist. Story by Brian Hartigan and Lieutenant Commander Helen Ward.
RELATED STORIES: Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20
While numbers fluctuate daily – and are somewhat unreliable, even wacky – the number of military Reservists in the field has already been reduced by nearly 1200.
Meetings are taking place across the country to plan the next phase – the eventual handover of responsibility to civilian agencies.
For example – Victoria’s Alpine Shire has been home to soldiers of Joint Task Force 646, who have provided support during the bushfire crisis.
More than 230 soldiers from across Victoria have been based throughout the shire in the north-east of the state since 4 January, assisting with historical site protection, evacuation of residents and road clearance tasks.
Commanding Officer for the alpine west area of operations Lieutenant Colonel Dan Strack and other members of the task group recently met with council representatives to discuss plans for the transition of Defence activities in the region.
Deputy Municipal Recovery Manager with the Alpine Shire Council Douglas Kieltyka hosted the meeting.
“I want to pass on a huge thanks to the Defence team for all the work done so far in the Alpine Shire,” Mr Kieltyka said.
Of the shire’s almost 5000 square kilometres, more than 90 per cent is public land, including national parks that have remained under constant threat of fire for months.
Lieutenant Colonel Strack said the fires were unprecedented.
“We are prepared, well organised and well resourced to support our partner agencies,” he said.
“The escalating damage and the heart-breaking human cost had called for nothing less than an all-out response.
“Defence has supported the work of our partner agencies to get the communities back on their feet as quickly as possible.
“Our counterparts in the Ovens Incident Control Centre have done a great job managing the fire response.
“We’re proud to have had the chance to work beside them and support their efforts.
“There’s lots of roads that need tree clearance, so we’ll continue to provide engineering capability that supports Ovens recovery efforts.
“[But], as the immediate fire threat in Abbeyard and Shannonvale has subsided and holiday-makers are now returning, the time has come for us to reduce our presence.”