Response to fire in the mine

Background

Under the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) (CFA Act), the Country Fire Authority (CFA) has a duty to take and enforce steps to prevent and suppress fires for the ‘protection of life and property’ in the country areas of Victoria.1 The country areas of Victoria include private land and all the areas that lie outside the metropolitan district and outside public land, including state forests, national parks and protected public land.2

The Hazelwood mine is located on privately owned land that is part of the country area of Victoria. It is the duty of the CFA to prevent and suppress fires at the Hazelwood mine when notified by GDF Suez, dependent on other demands that fire services are managing at the time.

Over recent years, the CFA has improved firefighting capability in the Latrobe Valley. Two aerial appliances have been acquired with the support of the Victorian Government, and located at Traralgon. In the last five years, the firefighting fleet has been modernised and additional firefighters have been employed at the Morwell and Traralgon CFA brigades.3

The Hazelwood mine is located within the Yallourn North, Morwell and Traralgon fire brigade districts. The Morwell and Traralgon CFA fire brigades include career and volunteer firefighters. Yallourn North and other brigades within the Latrobe Valley are wholly volunteer firefighter brigades. The Yallourn North, Morwell and Traralgon CFA fire brigades support the response to fire at the Hazelwood mine. When a fire situation escalates, brigades may be called in from across the Latrobe Valley, including from the Churchill, Moe and Narracan CFA brigades.4

The Hazelwood mine fire ignited on the afternoon of 9 February 2014. As discussed in Chapter 2.1 Origin and circumstances of the Hazelwood mine fire, the mine fire was not just one fire but a complex of fires that started in various areas of the mine throughout the day. The fires that started in the mine originated from spotting from multiple bushfires, making firefighting efforts more difficult.

Efforts to fight the fires in the Hazelwood mine continued for 45 days until the fire was declared safe.

Discussion of firefighting has been divided into the following timeframes:

  • Phase 1: 9 February 2014
  • Phase 2: 10–18 February 2014
  • Phase 3: 18 February–25 March 2014.

The Board has constructed a timeline of the firefighting that took place in the mine, in particular for Phase One, by considering the evidence of several GDF Suez personnel and CFA volunteers who were directly involved and who took photographs, videos, and made logs and other contemporaneous records. As discussed in Chapter 2.1 Origin and circumstances of the Hazelwood mine fire, the Board considers that to the extent that the evidence was based on personal recollections only, the times of certain events are a ‘best recollection’ of the witnesses in the context of extreme circumstances faced that day.

Figure 2.22 Fire in the Hazelwood mine on 25 February 2014

8101_Figure_2.22_Heral_opt

Image source Herald Sun

phase ONE: 9 February 2014

Fire at the Hazelwood mine started in the eastern batters near ‘the Knuckle’ and was reported to the Mine Control Centre via radio at around 2 pm on 9 February 2014.5 By 2.10 pm both the GDF Suez 2×12 crew and 1×7 crew were attending to the fire.6 Mr James Mauger, GDF Suez 1×7 Operator, gave evidence to the Board that suppressing the fire was difficult from the beginning. He stated that the ‘wind was making it extremely difficult to extinguish the fire because it was pushing the fire so quickly.’7

At around 2.10 pm, Mr Romeo Prezioso, GDF Suez Senior Mine Planner, noticed fire on the floor of the mine in the overburden dump, and directed GDF Suez personnel to attend with dozers to smother the fire.8

At around 2.15 pm, Mr Matthew Weddell, GDF Suez Mine Services Superintendent, and Mr Alan Roach, GDF Suez Security and Emergency Services Manager and Emergency Safety Liaison Officer (ESLO), drove to the south-west part of the mine to assess the fire situation and to open gates to enable vehicles to travel through the mine. At that time, Mr Weddell turned on sprinklers for the conveyers in that area.9

Mr Weddell and Mr Roach then drove to the lookout above the southern batters to assess the likely impact of the Driffield fire on the mine. Mr Roach observed embers from the Driffield fire within the mine at about 2.25 pm and made an assessment that it posed a significant threat.10

Mr Roach recorded in his log of events that at about 2.30 pm, he called the Traralgon Regional Control Centre and was provided with the telephone number for the Traralgon Incident Control Centre.11 Mr Roach then rang the Traralgon Incident Control Centre and left a message for someone to return his call.12

At around 2.40 pm, Mr Roach, Mr Weddell and Mr David Shanahan, GDF Suez Services Superintendent, discussed protection of the mine from the Driffield fire, assuming that ‘the Hernes Oak [fire] risk had passed’.13 Tactics discussed included turning off sprinklers in the central and western end of the northern batters to supply more water to damp down the exposed coal at the west field.14

Mr Shanahan gave evidence that the fire service network was not designed to enable all the sprays in the mine to be turned on at the same time. Areas had to be prioritised for wetting down depending on the risks unfolding.15 Soon after, Mr Shanahan drove to the northern/north-western batters and turned off the non-essential sprays.16 The areas where sprays were turned off were not affected by fire.17 At around this time, Mr Prezioso joined Mr Shanahan at the northern batters and turned on sprays to create a water-break between the worked out areas that were on fire and the western part of the northern batters (see Figure 2.23).18 There were no sprays on the eastern end of the northern batters (west of the area already rehabilitated) that could have been activated and there were only limited sprays on the eastern and south-eastern batters.19

Mine personnel were aware from previous experience with mine fires that on days of extreme fire danger, fire rapidly spreads to coal that is not covered by water spray. Mr Robert Dugan, GDF Suez Mine Production Manager, stated to the Board:

In October 2006 there was a fire at the mine caused by a mechanical failure in the operating area… Because of the strong winds (it was a Black Saturday type of day) the spark that came off the idler landed in an area of coal that was not covered by the sprays due to the wind blowing the spray pattern away… Within 20 minutes it had spread over 1.5 km and destroyed the conveyor.20

At around 2.43 pm, Mr Roach provided a situation report to the Planning Officer at the Traralgon Incident Control Centre regarding the threat of the Driffield fire to the Hazelwood mine. He also indicated that the mine was under ember attack.21

At around 2.45 pm, personnel from the 1×7 crew attended to the fire at the northern batters in one of the mine’s water tankers.22 Mr Mauger stated to the Board: ‘When we arrived at the northern batters, the fire was in the middle of the batter in the scrub, which made it impossible to walk in with hoses, so we started spraying water from above the fire, to little effect.’23

At around 2.52 pm, Mr Steven Harkins, GDF Suez Director of People, Culture and Environment, spoke with Mr George Graham, GDF Suez Asset Manager, to advise that the situation was very serious and that he was going to declare a ‘full blown emergency’.24

Shortly after that conversation, at around 3.10 pm, Mr Harkins made the declaration of a ‘full blown emergency’ and activated the Emergency Response Plan. As required under the Mine Fire Service Policy and Code of Practice, an Emergency Commander was appointed and an Emergency Command Centre established.25 Mr Prezioso was appointed Emergency Commander and Mr Roach was tasked with establishing the Emergency Command Centre.

Mr Prezioso is not listed in the Emergency Response Plan as an Emergency Commander. Mr Harkins gave evidence to the Board that he chose Mr Prezioso as Emergency Commander because Mr Prezioso had good knowledge of the mine, was highly experienced with fires and emergency response (having been second in charge in previous fire incidents at the mine), and he was one of the mine’s Emergency Safety Liaison Officers.26 Mr Prezioso was out in the mine attending to firefighting efforts and was contacted to return to the Emergency Command Centre to assume the Emergency Commander role.

At approximately 3 pm, fire services aircraft water bombers gave some assistance with fire suppression in the northern batters.27 The presence of the aircraft and other fire services’ firefighting equipment was limited in the afternoon due to the need to protect life and property around Morwell.28

At about 3.20 pm, power poles caught fire in the northern batters.29 Around this time, GDF personnel considered firefighting in the northern batters to be overwhelming. As Mr Mauger stated to the Board:

It was too dangerous with the power lines nearly on the ground in the northern batters area… to continue fighting that fire. We continued to try and put out spot fires in nearby areas for approximately 15 minutes but to little effect, as all levels of the (northern) batters were on fire at that stage.30

By 3.25 pm, RTL Mining and Earthworks Pty Ltd, contractors to GDF Suez, were preparing mineral earth breaks in the western boundary of the mine to combat the risks of the advancing fire from Driffield. The 1×7 crews were also continuing patrols in this area with water carts.31

By around 3.30 pm, additional GDF Suez personnel had been called into the mine to assist with firefighting, bringing the number of employees and contractors on site to 58.32

At around 3.35 pm, Mr Roach and Mr Prezioso met at the Emergency Command Centre to access plans and drawings and consider priorities for asset protection. As Emergency Commander, Mr Prezioso’s first priority was to protect the mine’s assets, such as the power substations, power poles, coal conveyors and dredgers, particularly from the Driffield fire approaching the operating area of the mine.33

Mr Prezioso’s evidence to the Board was that the 2×12 crew was directed to protect the operational areas of the mine and the 1×7 crew was directed to focus on fighting the fires in the worked out areas.34 At some point in the afternoon, Mr Prezioso directed that the one working crane monitor with booster pump be used to fight the fire in the southern batters.35

Between approximately 3.47 pm and 4 pm, Mr Roach contacted the Traralgon Incident Control Centre three times. During one of these calls Mr Roach sought aircraft assistance to suppress fire at the clean water pump station at the base of the northern batters.36 There was no evidence provided to the Board of any aircraft attending to firefighting efforts after this call.

At about 4.45 pm, two CFA tankers arrived at the mine to help protect the MWN (Morwell North) substation on the northern batters.37

Around 5 pm, Mr Prezioso, Mr Weddell, Mr Roach and Mr Shanahan met at the Emergency Command Centre to discuss the northern batters fire and the risks that fire posed to key infrastructure in and around that area.38

As the fire spread, it further damaged power supplies, which led to a loss of power throughout the mine sometime between 5 pm and 6 pm.39 The mine has two separate SP AusNet 66kV power lines that run together across the northern batters. There are four power substations in the mine and two of these substations – MWN (Morwell North) and MWW (Morwell West) – lost power due to the damage caused by the fire. The loss of power affected the Emergency Command Centre and pumphouse 53 for the fire service network, thereby affecting the water flow to the sprinklers within the mine.

Fire damage to the mine’s power system above the Hazelwood Ash Retention Area (HARA) pond caused the 11kV power supply that runs through the MWE (Morwell East) substation to be tripped. This resulted in losses of power to pumphouse 50 for the fire service network, also affecting the water flow to the sprinklers within the mine. The two MWE substation 6.6kV feeders were also tripped several times due to fire related faults.40

Mr Mauger gave evidence that the loss of power interfered with his ability to refill the mine’s fire truck and he was forced to use gravity as a means of refilling.41 There were no internal generators at the mine that could be switched on to power the pumps in power outages.42

Mr James Faithful, GDF Suez Technical Services Manager – Mine and Acting Mine Manager, gave evidence that the loss of power did not mean that there was no water in the mine accessible for firefighting. Mains fresh water refilling points were located on the northern batters and tanks C and D had water coming in from pumps 50 and 53, albeit the water in these tanks could only be accessed using gravity-fed means. Mr Faithful conceded that access to water was limited, which meant a limited capability to suppress the fire.43

At around 5.30 pm, GDF Suez personnel were diverted to fight a fire on the grass level near Lower Ridge Road adjacent to the mine’s MWE (Morwell East) substation using one of the mine’s furphies.44

Between 5 pm and 6 pm, a CFA strike team arrived at the mine and was directed to the Emergency Command Centre. The CFA strike team was unable to assist in any firefighting at the mine as it was subsequently diverted to protect life and property being threatened by the Driffield fire.45

At about 6 pm, Mr Shanahan attempted to activate sprays in the south-eastern batters but found that there was no water.46

At around 6.45 pm, a CFA strike team, led by a Division Commander, arrived at the mine fire with four fire tankers and a four wheel drive leader vehicle.47 Mr Anthony Lalor, CFA Volunteer, initially attended at Energy Brix to the immediate north-east of the Hazelwood Power Station but was soon diverted to attend to the mine fire. Mr Lalor attended with the Willow Grove brigade which is located approximately 30 kilometres away from the mine; however he had some familiarity with the mine from being deployed to the mine with the CFA in earlier fires and from other visits arising from his employment as a surveyor at the mine 25 years earlier.

Mr Lalor told the Board that access to the mine at the time was difficult as there was confusion about which gate to enter the mine and how entry was to be obtained. Further, once access was obtained through a remote controlled gate, there was an additional delay, as the gate had to be opened and shut for each individual vehicle passing through.48

Mr Lalor gave evidence to the Board of further problems that the strike team faced whilst deployed to the mine to put out fires at grass level. These problems included having no mine escort dispatched by the mine to assist the strike team in moving around, a lack of appropriate signage for guidance in the mine, and CFA radio communications being incompatible with the GDF Suez radio communications.49

By 7 pm on 9 February 2014, there were 103 GDF Suez mine personnel at the mine assisting with the firefighting.50

At approximately 7.45 pm, the Emergency Command Centre was relocated to the mine’s administration building due to the power outage.51 Whilst there was no power in this building either, according to Mr Harkins it was a better location because it was less subject to smoke from the fire.52

Mr Faithful assumed the Emergency Commander role for the overnight shift at around 8 pm.53

At about 8.20 pm, the CFA Incident Controller arrived at the Emergency Command Centre with a strike team comprising six tankers.54

The CFA took operational control of the Hazelwood mine fire around 10 pm.55 A suppression strategy and Incident Action Plan were prepared overnight by Mr Ross Male, CFA Division Commander, in partnership with operational staff at the mine.56

CFA firefighters who arrived at the mine at around 10 pm, described the situation as chaotic and disorganised. Mr Doug Steley, CFA Volunteer from the Cowwar brigade,57 provided evidence to the Board that mine escorts were not always available, signage was lacking throughout the mine, proper maps were not presented and that there were difficulties in communicating with mine personnel and the Incident Control Centre.58

Firefighters arriving at the Hazelwood mine were overwhelmed by the extent of the fire. As Mr Lalor stated: ‘It was unbelievable, it was like vertical lava flow but rather than flowing down it was flowing up and over the top of the cut… I knew that there was absolutely nothing we could do in the cut, it would be like throwing a cup of water on a camp fire.’59

Overnight, firefighting conditions at the mine were very difficult because of the lack of power and water, and poor visibility due to smoke.60 As Mr Shanahan stated: ‘Throughout the night, the large fires on the northern batters, the southern and eastern batters, and on the floor of the mine were not being actively fought, due to extremely dangerous conditions…’61

Mine electricians and others, including the external supplier SP AusNet, worked to return power to the mine by the early hours of 10 February 2014. At around midnight, work by engineers created a power supply to two water sources—the ‘dirty water pumps’ and the Hazelwood pondage (pump 53)—by switching works to the MWE (Morwell East) substation. Power was restored to the Emergency Command Centre between 3 am and 4 am. Restoration of SP AusNet power lines occurred in time for conveyors to start work at around 6 am to supply coal to the Hazelwood Power Station.62

The Incident Action Plan developed by Mr Male, at the end of the night shift on 9–10 February 2014, records suppression objectives as:

  • continued provision of asset protection to key infrastructure in order to maintain coal production
  • restoring the 66kV power lines into the mine so that water pumps were operational
    for firefighting.63

Fire was widespread at the Hazelwood mine by the morning of 10 February 2014. According to the Incident Action Plan prepared by Mr Male, fire had spread across three levels in the northern batters, extending for approximately two kilometres. Another fire was burning over approximately one kilometre of the eastern batters, and a fire of approximately 500 metres by 500 metres was burning in the floor of the mine.64 The fire-breaks and other firefighting efforts of 9 February 2014 meant that fire had not spread into the operational areas of the mine and power production from the mine was not significantly interrupted (see Figure 2.23).65

Figure 2.23 Photograph of water-break on the northern batters at 5.30 am on 10 February 2014 66

8101_Figure_2.23_opt
A water-break in the northern batters prevented the fire from spreading west towards the operational area of the mine. Photograph taken by Mr Steley.

Phase TWO: 10–18 february 2014

After the CFA took control of the Hazelwood mine fire, planning for full suppression of the fire was paramount. Suppression plans evolved as the firefighting continued and firefighters faced multiple issues relating to management, health, and the stability of the mine.

Suppression strategy

Planning the suppression strategy for the mine fire occurred at incident, regional and state levels.67 The Incident Controllers developed Incident Shift Plans twice daily, which identified the planning in place for dealing with the mine fire.

The Incident Shift Plan prepared for the day shift on 10 February 2014 dealt with all fires being managed by the Traralgon Incident Control Centre. It records the objectives for the shift as:

  • containing and securing perimeter lines of the various fires in the Latrobe Valley region
  • protecting key infrastructure in the area
  • supporting the resumption of a normal community and business activities in Morwell as soon as possible.68

Specific to the Hazelwood mine fire, the Incident Controller determined that suppression efforts were to be undertaken by splitting up the fires in the mine into sectors and deploying four CFA tanker strike teams (16 vehicles in total), one pumper strike team, one hose laying appliance and one teleboom appliance. Two mobile radio repeaters were also used.69

The Incident Controller recorded strategic, health and resourcing issues as needing attention.70 From 11 February 2014, several new strategic command structures were set up to deal with the mine fire.

At the incident level, a separate Incident Management Team was established at the mine within the Hazelwood Emergency Operations Centre.71 Mr Steven Warrington, Regional Controller (Mines), indicated that the priority for planning and suppression activity during this period was to extinguish the fire and reduce the impact of smoke given the fire’s proximity to the Morwell community.72

At the regional level, a Strategic Emergency Management Team (Mines) was also established to deal with issues arising from the mine fire. The team comprised a number of experts, including industry groups. Meetings with the Regional Controller were held daily at 5.30 pm.73

On 11 February 2014, the first iteration of the Latrobe Valley Coal Mines Fire Strategic Plan was issued. This document was generated by the fire agencies, GDF Suez and the Central Gippsland Essential Industries Group. The objective of the Latrobe Valley Coal Mines Fire Strategic Plan was to keep the fire within the worked out areas of the mine and to avoid the loss of critical infrastructure so as to maintain power generation.74

At the State level, a State Strategic Support Team was formed on 12 February 2014. The State Strategic Support Team developed the ‘State Strategic Support Team Brief – Latrobe Valley Coal Mine’, which was revised and updated throughout the mine fire.75 The team comprised representatives from the CFA, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), the Department of Health, the Environment Protection Authority, Victoria Police, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and the Department of State Development, Business and Innovation.

The State Command structure is depicted in Figure 2.24.

Figure 2.24 State Command structure76

2.24-Command-structure_opt

Role of GDF Suez in firefighting

After control of the firefighting was taken over by fire services, GDF Suez personnel continued to contribute to the firefighting effort and provided the CFA with information and escorts to assist with navigating the mine.77

Initially, GDF Suez continued to have an Emergency Commander who reported to the Incident Controller.78 By 11 February 2014, GDF Suez had set up a new emergency command structure and appointed senior personnel to ongoing roles. Mr Dugan was appointed as Emergency Commander for the day shift, Mr Faithful was Emergency Commander for the night shift, and Mr Prezioso was appointed Field Coordinator, managing the supervisors of firefighting teams.79

The command structures of GDF Suez and the CFA were run in parallel, with liaison taking place regularly to coordinate the firefighting.80

To keep informed of firefighting efforts and to coordinate future action, the GDF Suez Emergency Commanders held meetings at the start and end of each shift (6 am and 6 pm) and around midday, with GDF personnel. Other issues such as health and safety, geotechnical concerns and resourcing, were also regularly discussed. CFA Division Commanders and CFA Sector Commanders also attended these meetings.81 In addition, Mr Dugan met with the Mine Incident Management Team at around 8.30 am each day to report on information received from the night shift and to discuss the proposed action for that particular day.82

By 13 February 2014, GDF Suez had divided firefighting activity into two sectors, the northern and southern batters. On 15 February 2014, these sectors were further divided into three sectors, with an additional fourth sector eventually being added. A separate supervisor within the GDF Suez Command Structure was responsible for each sector. The CFA adopted a similar structure of using sector commanders to coordinate its firefighting teams.83

Hazmat incident declared

On 13 February 2014, Mr Craig Lapsley, Fire Services Commissioner, determined the mine fire to be a HazMat incident.84 A HazMat fire is a fire where hazardous materials, high consequence dangerous goods or dangerous goods are present. As the CFA is the control agency for both major fires and HazMat incidents, the command and control arrangements for the mine fire did not alter when the HazMat overlay was applied.85 See Chapter 4.4 Firefighter health for more information.

Expansion of the reticulated fire services water system

On 13 February 2014, the Incident Controller and GDF Suez mine staff determined that extra fire service pipework in the worked out areas of the mine was necessary to suppress the mine fire. With the support of the Victorian Government, the installation of extensive pipework commenced on 14 February 2014.86

Mr John Haynes, Incident Controller at the Hazelwood mine from 17 February 2014, gave the following evidence to the Board:

To assist the suppression effort, the reticulation system within the mine was extended. I believe that when the fire first started reticulated water was only present in that part of the Mine which was being worked on, immediately prior to the impact of the fire. This was a different part of the Mine to that which was on fire. Extension of the water reticulation system was therefore necessary to quickly and effectively supply water to the fire trucks. It was also necessary so that fixed fire fighting infrastructure was present in such a way as to facilitate the handing back of the Mine to the Mine operation, as soon as possible.87

During the course of the fire, reticulation and water piping were installed by GDF Suez personnel who worked day and night, with the aid of engineers from Loy Yang and AGL. Firefighting helicopters assisted this work by cooling the areas that were being worked on.88

Figure 2.25 Sikorsky helicopters assisting expansion of reticulated fire services water system89
8101_Figure_2_opt1 A photograph of the assistance by Sikorsky helicopters in the expansion of the fire service network is at Figure 2.25. In total, up to eight kilometres of 300 millimetre steel pipes were installed and welded together in the north-western batters, the mine floor and the eastern batters
(see Figure 2.26).90 Mr Graham informed the Board that GDF Suez paid for the installation of the additional pipes at a cost of $2.5 million.91 Mr Lapsley informed the Board that the total cost to the State of fighting the Hazelwood mine fire, as at 13 June 2014, was $32.5 million. This figure was not inclusive of the value of volunteer services.92
Figure 2.26 Water pipe installed during Hazelwood mine fire93

8101_Figure_2.26_Map_V_opt_resized

Water volume issues within the mine

Those managing the firefighting were aware of the need for a significant supply of water, and the potential for that volume of water to affect stability of the mine.94

Mr Dugan gave evidence to the Board that the mine started to suffer water supply and storage issues leading up to the weekend commencing 15 February 2014. The number of extra firefighting appliances and spray monitors operating at the mine meant that the mine’s water supply was insufficient. This issue was overcome by using the Hazelwood pondage redundancy system to supplement the mine’s water supply.95

Once the additional water was obtained, other problems were faced in dealing with storing additional water in the storage ponds on the mine’s floor as their capacity was being exceeded. The strategy implemented was to use the clean water pumps to pump excess water back into the Hazelwood pondage.96 A further strategy was later employed, whereby large capacity pumps from the Yallourn mine were used to help pump excess water into the Hazelwood pondage. This further step was necessary as the groynes (the retaining walls between the storage ponds) were beginning to struggle to hold the volume of water. In addition, GDF Suez added extra high head pumps to pump water from the sector 3 storage pond into the fire service network.97 Further methods were also adopted to deal with the ongoing water storage issues.98

Mr Lapsley gave evidence to the Board that he sought advice about the desirability of using foam to supplement water usage, to reduce concerns about stability, and to increase the success of fighting the mine fire.99

Relocation of the mine Incident Management Team

On 18 February 2014, the Hazelwood Mine Incident Management Team had grown to about 20 personnel. The Incident Management Team moved to the Traralgon Incident Control Centre because the facilities at the mine were not able to cater for a group of that size.100

As a practical consequence, the close liaison between the GDF Emergency Commander and the Incident Management Team was affected. Mr Dugan indicated that three days after the relocation, he commenced attending meetings at the Traralgon Incident Control Centre at about 1.30 pm each day.101

phase THREE: 18 february–25 March 2014

Fire suppression efforts were constantly reviewed and updated as firefighting in the Hazelwood mine continued. In light of the time taken to suppress the mine fire, community concerns about smoke and ash affecting the township and the people of Morwell, and concerns about water use within the mine, an expert review was undertaken to ensure that the most effective methods for fire suppression were being adopted.

Expert Reference Group appointed

On 16 February 2014, the State Controller engaged an independent Expert Reference Group to peer review the suppression strategies being used in the mine fire. Membership of the Expert Reference Group comprised Australian and international experts, including Commissioner Greg Mullins AFSM, head of New South Wales Fire and Rescue, Adjunct Professor Tim Sullivan, expert in mining geotechnics, Mr Wayne Hartley, CEO of Queensland Mines Rescue Service, and Mr Mark Cummins, a US practitioner experienced in compressed air foam as an extinguishing agent in mine fires.102

The Expert Reference Group met on 18 February 2014 and 3 March 2014. As part of the decision-making process relevant to suppression and extinguishment activities, the Reference Group identified the following operational actions:

  • the possible use of foams and sprinklers instead of streams of water to continue to reduce smoke and products of combustion (eg ash and embers)
  • focusing on areas in the mine where critical assets are located to ensure they are protected,
    and having redundancy plans in place if those assets are compromised
  • continuing the use of water to suppress the fire, and trialling other mediums including foams and gels
  • monitoring the volumes of water used and extracted, and the impact of those volumes
    on the mine, and managing the ongoing extension to the reticulation system
  • employing an ‘aggressive focused weight of attack strategy’ by using multiple approaches,
    fighting fire in incremental sections, and focusing on priority areas
  • monitoring and analysing critical aspects of the mine fire, including movement of the batters,
    the depth of the fire, water use, air quality and particulate matter
  • active monitoring using infra-red technology in areas previously treated to ensure fire was extinguished
  • monitoring safety issues for firefighters, including carbon monoxide exposure and water quality.103

implementation of the new fire suppression approach

The CFA, together with GDF Suez, implemented a new suppression plan to fight the mine fire based on the actions identified by the Expert Reference Group. Priorities continued to be:

  • reducing the impact of carbon monoxide, smoke and irritants on the community,
    firefighters and mine workers
  • protecting critical infrastructure
  • containing the fire spread
  • enhancing the water reticulation system in the mine.104

The role of Incident Controller during this period was shared between Mr Robert Barry and Mr John Haynes. Mr Barry has been with the CFA for 38 years, has extensive experience as a Regional Controller and Regional Agency Commander, and has been qualified at the highest accreditation level for an Incident Controller since November 2012.105 Mr Haynes has been involved with the CFA (in volunteer and paid capacities) since 1981 and has been qualified as a level 3 Incident Controller for 20 years.106

Mr Barry was rostered on shifts between 21 February and 21 March 2014. He described the new approach to extinguishing the fire as ‘like trying to eat an elephant. It had to be eaten one bite at a time.’107 The new approach was a six-step suppression plan with the following steps:

  1. segment the burning batters into 100 metre compartments on each level of the batters and extinguish the fire using water (applied by aircraft and other appliances)
  2. apply compressed air foam to stop the batter from reigniting while crews moved to another section of the mine
  3. deploy aerial pumpers to apply compressed air foam to the higher reaches of the batters
  4. use thermal imaging cameras to determine whether steps 1 to 3 had been effective and to identify any remaining hot spots
  5. suppress any hot spots identified by thermal imaging cameras
  6. test other methods of suppression that could be incorporated to improve steps 1 to 5.108

The use of compressed air foam is not a standard firefighting method employed by the CFA or MFB fleet in Victoria, therefore Victorian fire services borrowed large compressed air foam system (CAFS) units from Tasmania and NSW.109 Mr Barry informed the Board that by the time he commenced as Incident Controller on 21 February 2014, the Tasmanian CAFS unit was already at the mine and a number of foam agents were tested prior to ‘A Class foam’ being determined as the most suitable.110 A photograph showing the application of foam on the batter is in Figure 2.27.

Figure 2.27 The use of compressed air foam to smother batters at Hazelwood mine111

8101_Figure_2.27_opt

Mr Haynes observed that the use of CAFS resulted in less smoke and ash, which was important given that the community of Morwell was so close to the northern batters.112

The CFA continued to use aircraft to assist in the firefighting. The Sikorsky helicopters were used with great effect in conjunction with spraying onto the batters to reach areas that booms and crane monitors could not reach.113 A photograph of a Sikorsky helicopter fighting the mine fire is at Figure 2.28.

Figure 2.28 Sikorsky helicopters were effective in suppressing fire in steep mine batters

8101_Figure_2.28 Sikor_opt

Image source Keith Pakeham, CFA Pix. Sikorsky helicopters are different to other types of water bombers because water is delivered from a bucket beneath the helicopter. Helicopters can apply water to areas that are otherwise not accessible.

The CFA also put in place additional measures to plan and deal with spike days, when weather conditions were likely to make the firefighting more difficult and potentially cause spot fires. These measures included bringing in additional aircraft and strike teams and establishing mineral earth breaks.114

Mr Barry recounted to the Board that 25 February 2014 was a ‘spike day’:

The wind direction at that particular time caused a spot to come out of the southern batters which caught fire into the grasslands above the batters and the fire actually ran directly towards the power station and, in doing so, ran through a conveyor belt storage yard and moved up towards what they call the coal bunker. The resources that we had in place very quickly got on top of that situation and prevented the fire from entering the bunker.115

A photograph taken on 25 February 2014 shows the fire spotting out of the mine near the Hazelwood Power Station at Figure 2.29.

Figure 2.29 Hazelwood mine fire on a ‘spike day’ – 25 February 2014116

8101_Figure_2.29_Hazel_opt

Despite minor setbacks on spike days, very good progress was made in extinguishing the mine fire from 18 February 2014, as depicted by infra-red photographs (Figure 2.30).

Figure 2.30 Infra-red scans of the Hazelwood mine fire 11 February 2014 to 9 March 2014117
8101_Figure_2.30_11Feb_opt

11 February 2014

8101_Figure_2.30_18Feb_opt

18 February 2014

8101_Figure_2.30_18Fe_opt1

28 February 2014

8101_Figure_2_30_9Mar_opt-300x176-2

9 March 2014