An unpleasant surprise during a day of SOTA

Saturday 26 September 2015

Late on Friday night I decided to get out on Saturday for some SOTA activity. Several operators had placed Alerts for activations, so there was the chance of several Summit to Summit (S2S) contacts. I posted an Alert for my first summit, but for those planned for later in the day. During the day, things were busy: with plans for a multi-summit day, I took no pictures until after my little surprise mid-afternoon.

I was on the road a little after 0630 local time and headed to Trafalgar, Willow Grove, Hill End and Icy Creek and on towards Tanjil Bren, then up the Tooronga Tanjil Link Road. Left into Mundic Road and then again onto Mt Tooronga Road and park the car clear of the locked gate. Walk up the road to the high point below the summit (about 1.2 km), then climb up the slope to the summit.

Mt Tooronga Range VK3/VT-026 1257 m 8 points plus 3 point winter bonus

I was a few minutes later that my posted Alert of 2300Z Friday when I was set up about to call to see if the frequency was clear. Rod VK2TWR/p beat me to it by seconds, so we quickly completed a S2S contact. I moved down to 7.085 MHz and called to see if the frequency was clear. Ron VK3RS gave me the go ahead as well as contact. A string of contacts quickly followed before I went to 40 m CW to work Tony VK3CAT/p on Mt Matlock VK3/VC-001 for a S2S. Back to 7.085 for more chasers, and then a quick reconfiguration of the antenna links to chase John VK6NU/p on Mt Dale for another S2S – unfortunately not completed until just after UTC rollover. It was then time to go back to 40 m SSB for string of further S2S contacts. I packed up and was back on the road when I heard a spot for Glenn VK3YY/p, so I climbed back up into the AZ and set up again. I worked Rod VK2TWR/p on his second summit, followed by Glenn VK3YY/p on VK3/VE-067. Col VK3LED caught me before I closed again and headed back down the hill and then to the car.

I drove back to the Tooronga Tanjil Link Road, then north to Tooronga Road, then Nine Mile Road and north to Warburton Wood Point Road and on towards Matlock. Head off up Corn Hill Road and up toward the next summit.

Mt Matlock VK3/VC-001 1372 m 8 points plus winter bonus

First contact on the summit was Tony VK3CAT/p on 40 m CW, now on Mt Selma VK3/VT-013. Next up was Gerard VK2IO/p for another S2S. A string for Chasers followed, then some 2 m FM S2S contacts with Glenn VK3YY/p and David VK3IL/p. Back to 40 m SSB briefly for a single contact, plus I tried to chase Russ VK2BJP/3 on a summit. This was unsu7ccessful, as Russ rig kept shutting down. The day was getting on, so I packed up and headed back down the hill towards Matlock and on towards Aberfeldy, turning east into Mt Selma Road towards summit number three for the day.

Mt Selma VK3/VT-013 1464 m 8 points plus winter bonus

On arriving on the summit, I could hear Tony VK3CAT/p in a 2 m FM S2S contact with David VK3IL/p. So I quickly fished the 2 m handheld out of the bag and worked them both for S2s contacts. I then set up on 40 m SSB to work Compton VK2HRX for a S2S, then down the band to catch Wayne VK3WAM/p on 40 m CW for another S2S. Back up to the SSB band for a string of chasers, then Glenn VK3YY/p on a new one for a S2S, again on 2 m FM. I worked some more chasers before catching Andrew VK1DA/2 and Adan VK1FJAW/p, both on VK2/ST-004, followed by a quick contact with Glenn on 40 m SSB before leaving him with the frequency. I briefly chatted with Tony VK3CAT over near Connors Plain and decided to drop my plan to activate that summit – time was moving on. Someone must have influenced my decision, as we all shall see.

I arrived at the Mt Selma Road South Road junction ahead of Tony and proceeded south toward Mt Useful.

A pop, then smoke!

About 8.5 km down the road, I hit another pothole, but this one was different. I heard something “pop” and the engine started sounding rough. As I was slowing down, I saw some smoke from under the bonnet, so I slowed and pulled over just after the engine died, very close to the junction of South Road, Springs Road and Green Hills Link Road.

I jumped out to look under the car and saw flames. I quickly jumped back on 2 m FM and alerted Tony VK3CAT that I had a problem. I then started to get gear out of the car, as the flames rapidly increased in intensity and black smoke was billowing forth.

With the SOTA gear and some bags out of the back of the car, I managed to get the IC-706MkIIG disconnected and out of the car as the cabin filled of acrid black smoke and the flames were getting bigger. That was it – stand back and watch!

A few minutes later, Tony arrived on scene and approached with a fire extinguisher. It did not help, as the fire was really going by now. We both stepped back to watch.

The car is alight!

The car is alight!

I am not sure of the exact time – around 1420 local – time resolved having looked at the phone photos.

Almost all burning now

Almost all burning now

The flames rapidly increased in size and the front tyres burst. More bangs and large flames followed. Tony returned to his car and tried to rustle up some assistance: we were both concerned about the fire spreading and neither of our phones had coverage. Tony has a Codan transceiver with a Codan 9350 autotune antenna mounted on his Landcruiser, plus 2 m FM and UHF CB. Several calls on 40 m yielded a contact with Johnno VK3FMPB/p in the You Yangs, but with a mobile phone with coverage. Further calls for a home station with a nearby telephone yielded no results, so we began the alert process via Johnno as the intermediary. After much to and fro, we finally had the message through and were advised that fire trucks had been despatched.

By now, the fire was starting to die down a little. Col VK3LED called in to offer assistance. Johnno called in and stated that he wanted to head for home, so we ensured that Johnno & Col exchanged numbers in case the emergency services wanted to reach us. Col serves as CFA Communications Officer and was monitoring activity via CFA channels. We communicated to pinpoint our location with Col. A little later he passed some news on progress of the fire truck/s. By time the CFA arrived, all my gear was in Tony’s vehicle.

The CFA crew arrives

The CFA crew arrives

The CFA truck and crew arrived at about 1620 local, by which time there was only a little smoke coming from what was left of the vehicle. They hosed it all down and then I answered their questions. As they were packing up the truck, they noticed that they had blown a rear tyre on the truck. More drama! They could not move the nuts of the wheel after several minutes of trying to find the various tools, then gave up and decided to head back with the puncture.

Tony and I thanked the crew and loaded up to head toward home, which went by Mt Useful. Two SOTA operators in the vehicle, so what do you expect – we went to the summit for a quick activation.

Mt Useful VK3/VT-016 1434 m 8 points plus winter bonus

We headed up the rough start of the Mt Useful access track – the start was very chopped up with deep potholes. Once on top, we set up Tony’s gear and quickly made enough contacts to each qualify the summit.

We then packed up and headed for Churchill. We had unpacked my gear by around 1920 local. I thanked Tony for his assistance and he headed for home.

What a day!

The story of the day from Tony’s perspective.

Huge thanks to all involved: not just those that participated actively, but also those listening and those who kept the 40 m frequency clear. Special thanks to Tony VK3CAT, Col VK3LED, Johnno VK3FMPB, the Heyfield CFA & ESTA teams.

So the trusty old 1997 Forester is no more. It had taken me to lots of summits since I started playing SOTA in May 2012. In addition to the vehicle, the 2/70 dual band and Diamond 40 m whips were lost. A pair of sunglasses and miscellaneous small things: ropes, Swiss Army knife, street directory, etc, plus an IC-2820 dual band radio. I rang the insurance company on Saturday night to start the formalities. I will need to think carefully about what I did not get out of the car, as I can claim some “personal items” in addition to the car value – I guess that means I will be able to replace the sunglasses….. As I said earlier and on the afternoon – material things are of little consequence. Personal safety must always priority one.

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21 Responses to An unpleasant surprise during a day of SOTA

  1. vk3yy says:

    That’s unbelievable Peter! Lucky Tony was nearby and no one was injured.

    • vk3pf says:

      Hi Glenn.

      Yes, lucky that I decided to drop Connors Plain. That decision put me in front of Tony rather than behind. If it had happened in a different way, it may have required setting up the SOTA gear to call for assistance – phone coverage is patchy in the hills!



  2. vk2io says:

    Wow Peter. When you said on 40m you’d had a problem with the car, I could hardly have expected this! I sensed there had been an incident catching part of Tony’s traffic amongst the RTTY QRM, but this! Glad you managed to get out and salvage most things before the bonfire. Very sorry you lost the Subie. Take care, Peter!
    Cheers, Gerard – VK2IO

    • vk3pf says:

      Thanks for the thoughts Gerard.

      All OK, apart from a little irritation in the respiratory system – I copped a little smoke when grabbing the IC-706MkIIG from the front passenger seat. Cars can be replaced!

      Cheers, Peter.

  3. VK5PAS, Paul says:

    Hi Peter,

    Pleased to hear you came out uninjured, but very sorry to hear about the loss of the vehicle (which I reckon I’ve had the pleasure of being a passenger in).

    Fortunately it wasn’t in hotter and drier weather, as the fire could have spread to the bush.

    Again, pleased to hear you’re ok mate.



  4. VK2GOM says:

    Sorry to hear that Peter. I read something online about a car fire in VK3 yesterday, and ham involvement. Sounds like it may have popped the oil filter and sprayed oil all over hot exhaust headers? Hope you get /M again soon and the insurers co-operate. 73 – Rob VK2GOM

  5. gazmag says:

    Peter, very sorry to hear of the loss of your Forester in such dramatic circumstance, very good that no one was injured, hope the insurance comes through quickly.


    Garry VK2GAZ

  6. vk2ear says:

    Wow, lucky it wasn’t worse like a full
    on bushfire trapping you!

    I seen on the Amateur radio group on Facebook yesterday a discussion about 7.090 being used for an emergency so this was it.

    Any idea what caused the fire?

    Michael Connolly

  7. Ken Duffy says:

    Heey sorry to read about your loss and drama’s, At least people and radios were able to get help for you and as you say cars are still being made and you are safe. 73 ZL4KD

  8. A very lucky escape, Peter. Glad to see you remain in one piece – shaken, perhaps, but not stirred! A vehicle fire in remote places can be particularly hazardous. Ham radio to the rescue, thank goodness! Cheers. Roger VK2ZRH

  9. vk2ib says:

    Hi Peter

    I’m greatly relieved to hear you got out relatively unscathed. Shame about the Forester, but that can and will be replaced once the insurance is sorted out.

    Ten out of ten for style, going on and activating another Summit after the drama. Done like a true Mountain Goat 🙂


    Bernard, VK2IB

  10. colinconsiglio says:

    Hi Peter,
    Happy to hear that you are safe and sound!.. Colin vk3ncc

  11. Now that’s dedication. After all that, you still went SOTAing. Well done but sorry to read what happened and good you were not injured.

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  13. vk5bje says:

    HI Peter
    I am glad you are safe. As you say, and others say, cars can be replaced.

    John D

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  15. vk2yw says:

    Very sad about the the car and the other material things but the main thing is you escaped reasonably unscathed and are quite safe. Great story and it was interesting to read some of the follow up emails re extinguishers. I for one have a powder unit in my car that has never been used …might be time to check it anyway but unless one gets it quick its probably not going to do anything anyway. I look forward to hearing how you got on with the insurance company and what vehicle you end up with. All the best for it – John VK2YW

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