Great Pine Tier Fires – Tasmania 2019

I’ve been living the dream this season, renting a shack at Miena in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. I’d check the weather in the morning and then fly fish wherever the conditions were best. I felt like a child in a huge wild, remote and very fishy playground!

Then came Tuesday 15 January. I stood on the verandah of the shack and watched lightning that spanned the Great Lake, and more. It had been a very dry summer, the water tank was getting low, and I looked forward to the rain that comes with electrical storms. The rain never came. I learnt the first of many new terms – dry lightning – which is not accompanied by rain. I saw wisps of smoke in the distance. The next day the sky was clear and all seemed well as I left on a short trip to Sydney.

The days passed and news started coming through of the Great Pine Tier Fire. I watched as Miena moved to Alert level, then Watch and Act. By the time I returned there was an Emergency Warning in place and the road was closed. A lot of Miena residents had evacuated. Of those that remained, many worked tirelessly to support the large contingent that had arrived to protect the town. Firies, dozers, mechanics, and helicopters from agencies in Tasmania, the mainland, and even from overseas, as well as our wonderful local volunteers.

I joined a group of Miena evacuees who stayed at Hayes on Brumbys at Cressy. The days were hot, and the smoke from the fires some 50km away was clearly visible. They were anxious times. We learnt about the protection of “assets” such as power lines, communications, command centres, evacuation centres, and the shacks. We saw images of shacks that had been “foamed” and tried to work out where they were. We dreaded the fire “going for a run”.

It was not until Monday 28 January, two weeks after the dry lightning, that the road to Miena reopened to residents. The relief of seeing the town intact was immense. We then saw how very close the fire had been to town. The Tasmania Fire Service and all the agencies and volunteers involved had pulled off a miracle!

There were still many active fires, trees were down all over the place, and all the roads in the area remained closed to the public. I was worried for friends at Bronte Park and Highland Waters as the fire approached them. Fishing wasn’t really on my mind as the water bombing helicopters passed overhead.

Eventually there was rain and things started to change for the better. My friends and their shacks further South were safe. The road into Miena reopened to the public.

The road to Penstock Lagoon opened on Friday 8 February, three and a half weeks after the fire started. I was there in a flash! The area around the boat ramp and part way down the Lagoon on the Western shore was burnt out. It was great to see the Lady’s Walk, the shack shore, the dam walls and the shacks untouched by the fire. I understand the boat ramp area has been closed in the short term to allow some dangerous trees to be felled.

I returned to Miena to attend a resident briefing by the Tasmanian Fire Service. I heard fabulous news, the road block on the Marlborough Highway was being moved, and we could access the Pine again.

So on Saturday 9 February I went to the Pine. Ironically it rained on and off – if only that had happened weeks earlier! I saw the shacks intact, thanks to a big fire break. Sadly the nearby Skittleball Plains Homestead couldn’t be saved. There were many burnt areas around the Pine, but I was delighted to see that much of the bush had survived. I’d heard the Anglers Alliance Webcam had been saved by water-bombing, and sure enough there it sat in a green patch on an otherwise scorched hill.

A full month after the dry lightning I drove the Western shore of the Great Lake. There are some large burnt out areas around Liawenee and Reynolds Neck. It was steadily raining, and the run off looked clear.

The fires have had a visual impact on many areas, however there is still plenty of unaffected bush. More than I’d expected!

I’ve been in touch with a couple of people to see whether they think the fires will impact the fishery in the Central Highlands. Chris Wisniewski said The Inland Fisheries Service is monitoring the situation and is in the process of assessing damage to infrastructure. Two of the popular fisheries that were affected are Penstock and Little Pine lagoons however it is not expected that there will be any major problems for the trout fishery.

Mike Stevens of the essential Flyfisher said he didn’t see anything negative, and doesn’t think the fires will make any difference to the fishery.

As at 13 February 2019 this fire covered 55,247 hectares with a perimeter of 298 km. It is one of several that burnt simultaneously in Tasmania. Miena is one of many communities affected. Sending deep gratitude to everyone that worked so hard to protect us.

The helicopters are gone, and most of the fire trucks too. The Marlborough Highway is fully open. This weekend I’m heading to Bronte Lagoon. It’s time to go fishing!