My hunting buddy Mike and I were keen to get away on a Chital deer hunt. Originally that was going to be mid to late January, but other commitments arose that required some delay.
A heat wave of record breaking proportions was predicted in mid February, our first chance to get away on that planned hunt. We considered that and decided to go ahead with our Chital hunt near Charters Towers and set off last Sunday, the 12th February.
Our reasoning was that the southern heat wave would not reach that far north. Wrong! We also figured that we had done many a hot, summer hunt so it could not be much worse than that. Wrong!
Sunday in FNQ was one of clear blue skies and excellent clarity, despite the heat. There was very little traffic on highway especially for a Sunday. We pretty much had the road to ourselves. We were over four hours into our trip and were less about 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) from our turn off onto the dirt road that would take us to our hunting destination.
Up head, a plume of black smoke suddenly rose up into the air. We both commented, “That doesn’t look good!”
Within in a few seconds we crested a slight rise and were confronted with the spectacle of a bus, raging on fire, in the middle of the road. On the side of the road was a man and a dog. He flagged us down. We were in the process of stopping anyway. Mike pulled his 4WD and trailer off the road close to the chap.
Charley was agitated, but with good reason. His motor home and everything he owned was going up in smoke and he had sustained burns as well. The skin was hanging from his wrist and he had big blisters on his hands. His face was red and his beard and hair singed. I started pouring water on his burns while I quizzed him.
“Are there any other people on board?”
“No, just me and the dog.”
“Is there anything explosive on board?” I asked that because we were pretty close to the inferno and might need to add to the separation.
“Just a lot of fuel, a couple of gas cylinders and some spray cans.”
Then I just assessed him for confusion and other injuries. He seemed to be okay other than the burns. Mike in the mean time had already worked out that there was no phone coverage on the rural highway. He resorted to the radio. Quickly, he made contact with the volunteer manning the VKS737 network, the radio channel for Aussie outback travellers.
The duty operator was Robert, based in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Mike explained the nature of the emergency and Robert then made contact with NSW Emergency Services who in turn re-routed him to Queensland Emergency Services. It turned out that Robert was a qualified Paramedic, recently retired. He provided some guidance in our first aid to Charley.
We could not expect the emergency services to arrive for at least 45 minutes, given our location, so we just kept pouring water over Charley’s burns. After about 10 minutes another car pulled up. The folks had some iced water which was much more comforting for Charley than the rather warn water we had. After some discussion with Robert on the radio we decided it would be best for those folks to take Charley back a few kilometres to where there was a creek and sit him in the water until the ambulance arrived.
Meantime, Charley’s bus had become a raging inferno. Fuel tanks, gas cylinders, spray cans and the bus tyres were exploding and adding to the pyre. A few other vehicles had pulled up. The burning bus was in a low spot in the road, right in the middle of a culvert over a deep gully. The various drivers gathered in a group as the burning bus raged a cloud of dense black smoke into the sky.
We all faced pretty much the same dilemma. With the road blocked, it would be at least a four hour detour to get around the burning bus. Luckily, one of the vehicles was a semi pulling a float with a grader on board. After a quick chat, the two young fellows belonging to the grader unloaded the grader and cut a quick detour over the deep erosion gully.
By the time emergency services arrived, the ambulance first, then shortly later the fire brigade, a quick 40 minutes after initial contact, vehicles were bypassing the burning bus.
It was a spectacular, and delayed, start to our hunting trip.