Hay fire heroics

Picture: MICHAEL HARDINGE

By Jed Lanyon

Many are aware of the hay fire incident last month where a truck transporting hay caught fire on the Maroondah Highway, but few know just how bad the incident could have been if it wasn’t for some quick thinking from two truckers.

At 7.30am on 20 September, David Ayres was driving his Kenworth truck, transporting two trailers loaded with hay.

He pulled over along the Maroondah Highway next to the BP petrol station thinking that he may have a flat tyre.

Mr Ayres immediately put a callout on his CB radio asking for assistance from anyone in the area.

Fortunately for Mr Ayres, fellow truckie Fred Reid had just finished delivering a load in Healesville and was on his way out of town.

“He called up and asked if I could sneak around him to see what the trouble was,” Mr Reid said.

“I came up behind David and he was in all sorts of bother. There was smoke coming out the middle of his B-double.

“Being a load of hay, in town and next to a petrol station, I suggested let’s get it out of town before you lose the whole truck.”

Mr Ayres then drove the truck about 1.5 kilometres out of Healesville, just past Healesville-Koo Wee Rup Road where he and Mr Reid separated the two trailers and his prime mover to prevent the fire from spreading.

“Literally seconds after we got the prime mover out from under the trailer, it just burst into flames,” Mr Reid said.

“It was a big barbie.

“We were standing probably 30 metres away and the heat was burning us, that’s how hot it was.”

Without his assistance, Mr Reid believes Mr Ayres may have been left in a situation where his truck would have ignited in town, leaving him with no choice but to run for his own safety.

“Poor fella, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone what happened to him.

“He’s a good young kid, he was pretty switched on and acted pretty fast. If he hadn’t have made that call, we couldn’t have worked together to do what we did.“Afterwards he told me, ‘I couldn’t have done it without you, I owe you a beer’.

“Things could have been a lot worse and we were very lucky to have the outcome we had.”

Yarra Ranges Highway Patrol Officer Senior Constable Tom Juric agreed and praised the decision-making of both drivers to prevent the situation from worsening.

Following an investigation into the incident, Mr Juric told the Mail that there weren’t any suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire.

He said that the fire was caused from friction through an upturned mudflap against the truck’s tyres.

The smouldering tyre and mudflap was enough to ignite the hay.

The incident caused the Maroondah Highway to be blocked for several hours as Healesville CFA captain Mr Bates said that his team were at the scene for over five hours and required the assistance of a front end loader from VicRoads to push the hay off the trailers.

“We couldn’t get to the fire in between the bales, so VicRoads pushed the hay off the truck with a front end loader and we put it out as they pushed it off,” he said.

Coldstream CFA Captain Sean Bethell said that 18 large bales of hay were lost to the fire.

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