It’s been four weeks since Mt Hotham reopened after the resort was declared safe to return to following January’s bushfires.
While Hotham never came under direct threat from fire, extensive preparation was undertaken to ensure the resort and key infrastructure was protected.
It’s safe to say that water is the most important resource in a bushfire, so this was a major priority for the Mount Hotham Alpine Resort Management Board.
Hotham's water supply
Hotham’s drinking water (stored in tanks on Mount Higginbotham) and the water used for snow making in winter (stored in Loch Dam) are the main firefighting supplies.
The resort’s potable (drinkable) water is collected at the Swindlers Inlet headwall (pictured above) near Snake Gully Hut, with water for snowmaking coming from a weir next to the Audi Quattro loading station.
The water is pumped from these facilities via two respective pump stations in Swindlers Valley, up to storage locations at the top of the resort.
Throughout January, plenty of water was pumped to Loch Dam to ensure there was enough supply to support firebombing helicopters that draw from there.
Due to the loss of 80,000 litres per day from evaporation, strong winds and high humidity, about 950,000 litres was pumped into the Loch Dam each day over a two week period.
Threat to infrastructure
While having enough water is vital, protecting the infrastructure that pumps it to main storage facilities is just as important.
The potable water pumping station at the bottom of Pump House Drop ski run can use sprinklers that are on its roof for protection but would likely not be able to save it if a ferocious fire front came through.
Therefore, further measures were called on with Mount Hotham Skiing Company snowmaking guns moved down to Swindlers Valley to better protect this pump house and the snowmaking pump station.
Another pump station at Silver Brumby Hut, just below the Blue Ribbon ski area required a more hands-on approach.
The Resort Management Board’s Trevor Taylor regularly visited here to wet down the ground to prevent any ember attacks from claiming the infrastructure.
“We also had snow guns on Big D to protect the UV disinfection facility there as well as the fact that the CFA station backs on to this area of the resort,” Trevor added.
“Other tasks we undertook in the resort were general clean up works, so clearing of undergrowth and trimming of low-lying tree limbs as well as covering Spargo’s Hut in protective wrap.
“Along with that another important job was out on Sugarloaf which is near Buckland Gap, it’s where power and a Telstra lines run, and because they are close to the surface, we covered both with sandbags to protect them from heat damage."
The effort in preparing and protecting Hotham went beyond RMB staff with CFA volunteers, Forest Fire Management Victoria, Mount Hotham Skiing Company, the Australian Defence Force and Victoria Police also all involved.