VicPol Corporate

Cann River's story, Victorian bushfires remembered

Friday 8 January 2021 1:03am


Senior Constable Andrew Cochrane:

Cann River’s a town in Far East Gippsland that’s half way between Orbost and Mallacoota. If you look at the fire progression maps, we’re the little unburnt area that as the time goes on slowly gets smaller and smaller. Cann River’s surrounded by bush and we’re well aware that that’s where we live and the potential for bush fires given the seasons that we’d had and the weather that we’d had, it was only a matter of time until something happened.

Unfortunately, it was probably the worst event that could have happened. We didn’t have any active fires in our area but the weather conditions, everyone was on high alert and it was expected that it was going to kick off. The Wingan fire kicked off to our east, which eventually was the fire that went through Mallacoota and we had the Goongerah fire burning to our west. At the time all we knew was we had fire all around us. I’ve been stationed at Cann River for three years now. During the 2019-2020 bushfires,

I was the only member stationed at the Cann River police station. In the lead up to the bushfires, there was some extra police members being sent to Cann River. Half of them were meant to go to Mallacoota and half were meant to stay here to assist. Unfortunately, the Wingan fire had impacted the Princes Highway and they weren’t able to continue on to Mallacoota. I don’t think they, or even anyone else expected that they were probably going to end up in the middle of one of the worst fires we’ve seen in this area. On the 30th I remember we’d spent the day implementing the Cann River Local Incident Management Plan refers to as the LIMP plan, which involved setting up the school with all the hoses and collar tanks and local CFA tankers there.

I noticed that our CFA members, the number of hoses, wasn’t going to be enough of them to man all the hoses so thankfully some of the young police officers that turned up here from Melbourne or other regions had some CFA experience and they actually ran some impromptu lessons on how to use a fire hose and how to defend the school should we have been impacted by the fire. On the night of the 30th I went home to get some sleep, having been up all day doing preparations for the Cann River town and lying in bed trying to sleep and hearing distant thunder, starting to see some flashes of lightning and thinking that’s not a good sign.

The emergency app on my phone started going off and new spot fires started coming up on the emergency app and they got closer and closer this way and then I got a phone call from Senior Sergeant Brad Johnstone who was one of the Melbourne police officers that was in here, that had arrived the previous day basically, saying it was time to go to the school and bunker down, and I remember coming out from behind the police station where my house is and seeing the red glow all around town. You could see flames sort of in the air and at the time I believed we were going to be impacted. The 23 police that had come to town were staying in the motels but there was no power in the motels and it was very, very hot so a lot were parked on the grass here in their police cars with their air conditioner running actually asleep in their cars. So I had to knock on a couple of windows and wake people up.

We moved down to the school and towards a hundred people started to gather at the school, I think we ended up with about a hundred and fifty. We were completely surrounded by fire, we weren’t getting a lot of updates and they didn’t really know what the fire was doing. Everyone was quite nervous, being a local and knowing a lot of the residents I put on a hard face but I was quite nervous and quite scared about what was potentially going to happen as well. Had to have faith in the community LIMP plan, if the town was going to be impacted that the school was defendable in the event of a fire. On the 31st estimated, I don’t know the exact time, around 8 or 9 am, it was still dark here, it was a cool change, it was very cool.

I recall it was actually cold, a muddy rain sort of fell, and the fire was still around us but the major threat had eased for a short time, and the forest fire management and local contractors had put containment lines around the town. I was hugging people, being hugged by people I never thought I’d cop a hug off. That’s where the community spirit kicked in and the local cafe Relics, so they basically put their hand up and said they’d cater all the food. So they went and got their staff and took them down the school and started cooking for the community and all the emergency services that were in town. The kids were outside, some were playing footy with the Melbourne coppers that were here, just a good sense of community spirit. Really proud of how the community dealt with the situation and they listened to directions and they did what we needed, and they offered assistance where required and everybody chipped in, and everybody one wanted to help, and everyone wanted to do what they could.

Local contractors is was their actions probably prevented the fire from encroaching in town, and the local emergency services, including the DELWP, CFA, our bush nursing centre down the road, the local SES, the work they did for the community in relation to fighting the fire and the relief and recovery effort afterwards was phenomenal. In the days before, me and my wife initiated our personal fire plan, and my wife and kids had gone up to the south coast of NSW for the day. They didn’t come back for another 4 weeks, because I rang her and told her to stay. After the fire we were completely cut off so I wasn’t going anywhere, and you’re here to do your job and protect the community, and I basically just worked what I had to work, and the fire didn’t stop so there wasn’t really an ability to rest, sort of, until a couple of weeks on.

I got out of here for a couple of days and got reunited with my family up on the coast, I went up there with the army. It was time for a rest for me, and I’d done some big days and a lot of hours. Andrew Cochrane’s daughter: Dad! Daddy!

Senior Constable Andrew Cochrane:

Hey buddy. Happy birthday mate. Just really want to thank all the VicPol members that came during the incident, particularly the 23 members that were here. They were all incredible and stepped up and did what they to do, and did what they had to do to protect the people of the town and support the community at the school. The town were thankful for having them guys here and for stepping up in a town that a lot of them didn’t even know where it was until they arrived here the previous day. And the member who came in the weeks after to assist the town and provide relief and support the town was phenomenal and we’ll be forever grateful here as a community.

I act as a local, yeah, I think you’ve got to be here a long time before you’re classed as a local. I feel the community has embraced us moving here, me and my family, and we love it. We wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else.

Reviewed 28 June 2021

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