Tourist trains a ‘fire hazard’, says CFA firefighter

A CFA firefighter says steam trains passing beside his Muckleford property are a major fire hazard, and is calling for more bushfire management precautions.

Andrew Chapman’s property was burnt out on Wednesday by a five-hectare grass fire that caused thousands of dollars of damage to fences and threatened to reach livestock on his farm.

Mr Chapman said sparks from the exhaust of the steam train quickly caught on to the surrounding dry grass.

He said there had been seven fires at his properties in recent years, all believed to have been sparked by the steam train travelling between Maldon and Castlemaine.

“The fuel reduction hasn’t been fully completed this year, so you’ve got three feet of dry grass running up to the track,” he said. “It’s lucky there was no northern winds, or it could have been a lot bigger.”

On Wednesday Mr Chapman, who served as captain of the Walmer CFA brigade for 22 years, raced home to his property when his pager alerted him to the fire.

“I was in Melbourne and drove straight back home, an hour and a half later we were battling the fire. We were mopping up until 1am,” he said. 

“It’s an ongoing cost. We’ve done one a lot of fencing repairs on the boundary.”

A firefighting helicopter was called in to help 12 fire trucks put out the blaze that was under control just after 1.30pm.

The Victorian Goldfields Railway steam train was serviced with a trailing firefighting vehicle that also helped battle the blaze.

Mr Chapman said there needs to be greater fuel reductions and a more comprehensive review of when they operate the steam trains, given the dry conditions.

According to the VGR summer policy no steam trains operate on days of Total Fire Ban, and diesel locomotives are substituted for steam in the North Central District on days of severe fire danger rating.

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