Mt Tarrengower fire tower receives upgrade

Peter Skilbeck spends 116 days a year sitting on top of the Mount Tarrengower Fire Tower, looking for smoke.

His quarters are just two by 2.3 metres, barely enough space for a chair and a map table.

Not for much longer however. Mr Skilbeck, who spends up to 12 hours a day on duty, is looking forward to an upgrade, with work beginning on Wednesday.

Mr Skillbeck is a fire lookout operator, or fire spotter.

From December to April, he scans the countryside surrounding Mount Tarrengower looking for changes in the environment.

Human fire spotters are still a critical link in Victoria’s fire protections systems, said Marg Allan Regional Director of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Around 70 are spread across the state.

“A person up there is a very effective way of watching out for where fires are,” Ms Allan said.

“Our fire spotter, he can be up there for 12 hours a day, making sure we keep this area safe, and that’s part of critical first line of defence in terms of being able to identify where the fires are and quickly put them out.”

Sitting in bushland and forest, communities in the area surrounding Mount Tarrengower is vulnerable to fire.

“Because we have a number of townships in this region that are surrounded by forest and bushland, that can be really serious in fire season,” Ms Allan said.

“It’s part of a series of things we clearly do to try to maintain safety.”

On a clear day, Mr Skilbeck can see 80-100 kilomtres in most directions, to Pyramid Hill in the north, Mount Cole to the west, up into the Pyrenees and to Mount Warrenheip, east of Ballarat.

If he sees smoke, or dust, Mr Skilbeck immediately takes a bearing and contacts another fire tower to get its bearing.

When they have created a location, they contact the authorities to report the incident.

If fire spotters do their job well, most fires can be contained to less than a few hundred acres, Mr Skilbeck said.

Mr Skilbeck is delighted by the upgrades to his tower. He can soon expect a larger space of 2.7 by three metres.

“It’s fantastic. It’ll be great to have space that I can actually move around the cabin,” he said.

Work on the tower is due to be completed before the 2018/19 fire season.

The Mount Tarrengower fire tower will be closed to public access from Wednesday June 13 until works are completed. The carpark and road will remain open.