Auto-Combat Fiction
512: Deliberate Arson and Capital Punishment

Written by James "Dr. Death" Barton

Published by the HVD Car Wars Mailing List, February 15, 1998
Reprinted by the Seattle Washington Autoduel Team, February 13, 1999
Updated August 05, 2000

The car warm up sequence began; power plant primed and charged . . . weapon systems initiated . . . checking vehicle systems . . . vehicle
systems all clear. It was the sort of day you don't want to be working, the sun was out, the sky a crisp clear blue with a couple of high white clouds, but this was the sort of day we got really busy. It had been hot and dry, a typical Australian February day. Prime fire season, and prime hot-head season, tempers flare, fights start and invariably fires start.

I pulled out of the gate and engaged the houses security system, 6 in the morning the rest of the families still asleep, the kids don't have to be at school until 9 and the wife won't wake them up until 8:30, the joys of youth. It was only a short drive to the station and awaiting truck, which was sort of a pity because it was such a nice day to drive and a pump / water tank truck is not a nice thing to drive, well not as nice as my new Australis Design Ontaga.

I arrived at the station a couple of minutes early, using this time to have a shower, a nice cool shower. This could be my last for a couple of weeks water rationing was about to start and while we get some recycled water it isn't nice to drink or shower in. I then went to my locker, the rest of our crew were in there as well, there's Bluey, Mike, Bob, Liz and Tim. I ride with Liz, which is short for Lizard, no Elizabeth -- girls don't like this sort of work, and who can blame them for that. I put on the body armour first, we only wear the vest and thigh protection, and even that's too hot, we only wear because if we are found down and without it our families lose our pension. Next the fireproof suit and helmet, on a day like today the last things to go on and first to come off.

An alarm, a full 10 minutes before our shift was due to start, we were the B shift, this was our free time. We headed for the trucks, turned over the motor and headed out towards the North, a fire had been reported, flaming oil had been dropped in some bush land and now a driver was stuck and a wheat farm threatened. The two trucks left the station, sirens buzzing and lights flashing, I grappled with the steering wheel trying to make the all to tight turn that was our exit from the station, then stepping on the gas we slowly accelerated up to 60 mph, cruising speed. The day had got nasty while I was in the shower, or maybe my perception had just changed, a hot breeze was blowing now, from the north, that meant lots of hot dry air from the centre sweeping in and definitely no rain.

We were heading straight into the wind now and just as we saw smoke drifting towards us a car came straight for us, orange with fresh bullet holes and guns blazing at us, I opened fire first missing with the twin front mounted MGs, high calibre and with lots of ammo, the truck behind me did the same and then our ace came out, the defence car driven by Tim. He was a professional duelist before he marked up one to many driver kills and lost the interest in killing for sport. He now works for the AFFF, Australian Fire Fighting Force, defending our trucks. He pulled out from behind the pump truck and let fly with two incendiary rockets, the orange car swerved but still continued on.  I'm not sure what exactly happened next, but I kept the guns firing straight out front and as the car approached the bullets struck the front of the vehicle, nothing near what's needed to penetrate the front, but enough to get us thinking. Another couple of loud bangs as two more rockets went off and a thud, thud as we ran over the car.

I looked in the rear view mirror to see what was left of a pretty squashed subby, thank God we'd has the front ramplate and high suspension on the truck. We continued on though, the fire was still going and if the driver's panicked radio messages were anything to go by it was getting pretty big. WE don't often get attacked heading out to the fire, we are big targets and with Tim we are a bit dangerous. Firing on a fire truck is a capital offence as is deliberately starting a fire, presumably that guy started the fire and didn't want it put out. Deliberately firing volatile weapons and starting a fire is also a capital offence.

We didn't see much more heading out to the fire, in fact visibility got real bad as we approached, it looked like a big one and the grass was dry, a busy day. The cracking and blast of the fire is the second thing that hits you after the smoke, the noise is immense as is the wind as the fire sucks in oxygen and expels carbon dioxide.

We saw the fire and it was pretty big, it was probably going to need more crews to deal with. Our first priority though is to save life and then property, the driver was stuck right in the middle, about 20 metres of fire and blackened ground were between the grass and him, and the distance was getting bigger, he should have made a run for it when the guy first lit the dropper, but now he couldn't drive out. We stopped the truck and jumped out, unravelled hoses, the pump truck pulled just along side and we made the connection, the water began to flow as Liz opened the hose, Bluey and Mike held it in place, I opened the second valve as Liz ran to the hose and Bob aimed it, I had to find some more water or get help fast, I jumped into the truck and looked at both the IR scans and IR satellite images, the fire was spreading, southwards towards the city, but away from the nearby farm house which was less than 1 km to the east. The front was growing though, what was 100 metres was quickly growing the 200, within 10 minutes we'd have almost half a km, then it starts to grow real fast. I radioed in for backup.

"FireFly nest, this is FireFly 2 we have a problem here, 1-0-0 metre front, repeat that is one zero zero metre front headed towards FireFly Nest.  FireFly 2, 4 and 10 are here, we have one trapped badguy and no obstacles between fire and nest."

"This is FireFly nest we copy that, sending out units 1 and 6, do we need reserves from FireStorm Central?"

"Copy that nest, look we are going to need more than that, this fire is growing fast and this wind is pushing it along, our position is secure, but we are dealing with Badguy and can't hold front."

 "We roger that FireFly 2, be advised that all reserves are being called in and help will be there before zero nine hundred, advise on security."

"Badguy 1 is trapped in vehicle and offers no threat, Badguy 2 was dealt with deadly force, check for fire at milepost 45 km from nest, no other threats or damage to convoy."

"We copy that sending two police cruisers to secure location, eta 6 minutes."

"Roger that, over and out".

I jumped out of the truck, shit that had taken too long, we had to find water and the IR scans were only showing fire, the smoke covering any water.  I looked around, a small gully was 'bout 20 metres ahead, that should lead to water, but which way and how far. Stopped, thinking about this decision I looked out to the front, the boys were making progress to the Badguy, but it was slow and all the while the fire was heading southward and gaining speed. I then heard a voice, geeze that's the radio, jumping back in the truck I heard the emergency 1 warning.

"This is FireFly Nest, all units and all volunteers, this is an APB for any and all units to muster at location 55 km north of Nest, be advised this is a grade 1 situation and men are trapped."

"What is happening? Any news on Firestorm reserves?" I asked.

"We are a negative on reserves and backup, StormBunker has been hit by 2 north fronts, all units occupied with current crisis, FireFly units still enroute, ETA 13 minutes. You are to leave Badguy, repeat that, leave Badguy . . . New fire fronts have opened up on East and West vectors are headed towards your location, you are not secure, leave area immediately."

"Roger that, request change of callsign from FireFly 2,4 and 10 to Firefly Flight."

"Request granted FireFly Flight, good luck and god speed."

I activated the outside speakers, "All FireFly units to return to vehicles and evacuate area, repeat leave Badguy and evacuate fire area, we have a live one boys."

The guys ran back towards me, carrying equipment and hoses. We began to haul them back in, it was going to be a long fight and we had to get ourselves out of here. I got back into the truck and checked out the IR sat. images, the hole was gone, the Badguy was burning now anyway.  I zoomed the range out and saw what Nest had meant, two fronts were coming in from the northwest and northeast, to the south was the front we were just fighting, we were stuck now, and the gap was closing. As the wind was taken up by the northmost fires the southern one was slowing, and they had all joined up. Liz jumped in the truck, "How's she looking?"

"Not good mate, no reserves and Nest have put out an APB to muster 15 km south."

"Shit mate, how do we get out?"

"This is Tim here, I've got an IR readout here which says we are trapped, you want to explain Dave?"

"All I can say mate it that it's going to be a very long day or a very short one," what else can you say?

"Flight, this is nest be advised that Front 1 is to your south, Front 2 is at 045 and Front 3 at 315."

"We copy that front identification, repeating F1 at 180, F2 at 045 and F3 at 315. We show no exit route on short and long range IR sat., advise of actions."

"Flight, front ID correct, currently no escape route, FireFly reserve units are cancelled an fighting fire along N182, proceed to road and help break you out. Also F2 has claimed two already, campers left fire unattended and local rangers and civies caught in storm."

"We copy that, heading south along N182 to meet with FireFly units 1 and 6.  Let's move out boys, the fires a started and we're bashing out."

The trucks turned and headed south, the fire had moved far and fast, we'd only been there about 1/2 an hour and as we drove over the blackened area we saw the fire had slowed, the one behind hadn't though and we now had the flames in visual.

It's an eerie place, grass burnt out by fire, a brown dirt road in the middle of black smoking grass. It hits you, like being on another planet, nothing moves, nothing lives. Save the fire, which rushes in front and rushes behind, the only life . . . a horrifying death.

We performed the same drill as before, the trucks stopped and we connected the hose, I was in the front line this time, there's no water on the maps and it's Tim's job now, we could just make out the other reserves, they had cut a chunk out of the fire, and were now busy defending it as the fire continued on. They were in as much trouble was we were.

We opened up with everything, even the turret mounted foam guns on the roof were now being run by the computer gunner. This was an emergency situation, full water and foam attack was cleared for personnel retrieval. We made a little progress real quick, the back of the fire had lost most of it's energy, we soon came to the hot part though. It had begun to burn hot, we had moved from the dead grass to small shrubs now and in about 50 metres the fire would be in a eucalypt forest. Our reserves were in just as much trouble as us now, the fire had encircled them and as they hosed their way out the back it began to come in on the front, they we close to out though, then the wind came. Fires need oxygen and oxygen doesn't flow through trees too well, the fire wind shifted as the fire hit the forest and the wind started to blow from behind us, suddenly the other units were engulfed . . .

The fire had moved around them, and the were surrounded, they jumped back into the trucks, only 25 metres away now, but in as much trouble as us.  My personal radio came to life, Tim reported, "We have no water within 200 metre perimeter, extend search perimeter?"

"Negative on that FireFly 10, Flies #1 and #6 are trapped in a truck ,we have a critical situation here, repeat situation code 10, units trapped in vehicles."

FireFly #1 called on the radio, "FireFlight we are in situation grade 11, unit #6 armour integrity has been breached, unit is downed, repeat downed. Good luck and let's hope some of us get out of here alive . . . "

"FireFly 1, please state position, unit 1, please state position, smoke has obscured view of truck, please radio position . . . Unit 2, respond immediately . . . FireFlight commander to FireFly units 2, 4 and 10, code 13 on units 1 and 6, repeat units 1 and 6 are downed an burning, immediate evacuation from front area."

It was getting bad now, we had about 400 metres between both the front now, the rear front was skipping quickly over the burnt ground, we had 15 minutes before we had only 20 metres and would be within melt radius.

"FireFlight this is Nest, please advise on situation."

"Nest we have codes 10, 11 and 13, units downed burning and trapped. Flies #1 and #6 are downed and lost, units #2, 4 and 10 remain trapped,
immediate extraction required, Flies are within 15 minutes of code 5, trapped and within melt radius."

"Liz, check the short range IR sat. photos, we need a way out, now."

"Yeah, I'm on it boss."

"Flight leader this is nest, be advised that Helicopter #1, FireDragon is unavailable on civie rescue mission 5 km SW of your position, ETA approximately 25 mins."

"Hey boss, check this out."

"What Liz?"

"I got a gap, here, the fire hasn't made it through the trees, we've got about 2 mins to break through about 3 metres of fire."

"We'll drive through it Liz, FireFlight units do you copy that, head 200 metres at bearing 205, and breakthrough fire, use IR scans and sat. photos for the weak spot, me and Liz will follow you through, Bob you take unit #4 through first and Tim you follow, we'll come out last."

"We all copy that, let's go boys -- freedom or flame await . . . "

We headed away from the front gathering speed, and as we looped the truck round the saw the trees begin to explode in fire, that's the way gums burn, let's just hope we didn't have the trucks burning as well. Bob span the wheels as he accelerated towards the break, the truck flew through and we lost of it for a brief second, I think he made it, who cares we were going through anyway, Tim went through next, "Dave, Unit #4 is stuck, go through to western side of gap."

"Thanks Liz, we copy that, we've gotta get them out."

We burst through the fire, sparks went around the truck, the flames licked the truck, singing the paint and softening our armour. Just as quickly as we entered we left, we saw the other truck, they had hit a tree, but now had released themselves, Tim was OK and we moved on, pretty slowly now though. We weren't out though . . . The fire was passing through the trees quicker than we were, we couldn't out run it.

"Halt and form a front, it's time to take her on boys."

"We copy that Flight leader, let's slow this beast down and get ourselves out alive."

I jumped out first, it was time to take on the fire properly, a thin track, trees on eithr side, but we had a bit of a clearing, let's hope we could hold her off. Just as always we went into our standard drill, this time Tim was with us though, he was a good fighter (but a better duelist) and he wasn't really ready for this. We locked the hoses down and began to douse the flames, Tim wet the trucks and us.

As we pushed the fire back to the north, it began to wrap around us, and then it jumped, the wind had blown the sparks over the road an they now attacked the trees to the south. Tim turned his hose to the south and Bob trained the turret hoses onto the south as well.

Things were looking bad though, oxygen was getting low, the fire was close in around us and we had to get the breathing equipment out. I then heard Bluey, "I'm out of golden fluid Dave."

"Get the masks out of the truck then, and grab one of the foam extinguishers."

Bluey threw each of us our masks from the truck and began putting out the spot fires with the extinguisher, we were fast running out of water though, the pump truck had just run out, and the water truck was very low too, the Tim and Mike moved a hose across but it was no good, the fire was all around us and we were out of water, all we had left was the foam turret, it has seen us through so much, but was now in emergency mode, firing at any heat within range.

We backed further towards the truck, the pump truck was burning now, Tim's car was long gone and we were out of time, we saw the chopper overhead.

It hovered for a couple of moments and then dropped its' load of water, the fire back slightly, I looked towards the doors, there were only 3 of us left now, Tim had disappeared, as had Bluey.

"Where's Tim, and Bluey?"

"Dunno boss, Mike you seen them."

"Yeah I copy that, last I saw they were out of water and backing towards the pump."

"The pumps in flames now . . . "

"I know boss, but we ain't looking great now."

We looked towards the doors, if we could get into the truck we might just have a chance, but that was out, the fire was too close, the front tyres were melting. I felt hot, really hot, the suit was starting to get warm, really warm.

"How you feeling Mike?"

"Not to good boss, kinda hot and dizzy."

"We got an escape anyone?"

"Negative on that."

"Liz is that you?"

"Roger on that we are under the Pump, I think we are about to go down mate."

"Yea I get that feeling too, how the suits holding boys?" We were now all under the trucks, the safest place, if any place was safe. But we didn't like it, my suit was heating up and no one looked very good."

"I'm hot man, damn hot."

"Me too, they've held out a while, but I'm going."

 "Hang on guys, the chopper will be back soon, Dragon #2 should be here to dropping water." A crunch . . . "What was that?"

"Oh God, oh no, the pump just collapsed, they're gone. I can't believe it, the tyres, everything just collapsed.

"Liz, Bluey you OK?  You there . . . "

"What's happened to them, oh no, they can't, it's not possible."

I heard moaning, it was Tim, he was starting to burn up, he was real red and not moving, but neither was I, I guess we just lay there, awaiting the inevitable, but hoping beyond hope . . .

Well I guess that isn't the happiest piece of Car Wars fiction you've read, but I hoped you enjoyed it. And with the worst of Australia's bush fire season over, I guess it was just something that said something to you all. This year Australia lost two CFA firefighters to deliberately lit fires this year. In previous years we have lost many more, one a case similar to this, a truck trapped on a dirt track in a forest. I guess it might be fitting to dedicate this to them and all who have sacrificed before them. It's also not too Car Wars-related, but it was set in the Car Wars world and I think we all need some diversion from the shoot-em up Car Wars story.