Building fire dams was another of the many recommendations of the Stretton Royal Commission after the 1939 bushfires.
The Forests Commission annual reports give a clue to the increase in the numbers over the years.
There were no fire dams reported in 1939-40, but by the time that the Forests Commission ended and became Conservation, Forests and Lands (CFL) in 1982-83 there were 2169.
Building and maintaining fire dams was a local district responsibility. There was an engineer’s branch to help for bigger jobs.
But mostly the District Forester or overseer would simply identify a spot, usually near a road in a strategic location where there were no natural water sources, like rivers or creeks. Road drainage and table drains from the road were redirected into the dam to keep them filled.
They were built and kept clean with departmental machinery and crews. The FCV had lots of heavy machinery as well as small district FADs to clean them out. Excavators weren’t around until the 1980s.
They were shaped with shallow entry and exits so FADs could keep them clean and so tankers could get closer.
They weren’t all just simple holes in the ground either, some were proper stone weirs like Cosstick’s Weir in the Colquhoun forest near Nowa Nowa. There were bores and overhead tank stands as well.
The dams were often used for annual pre-season pump schools where all the district staff would familiarise themselves with the pumps in the fire shed. Usually ending with an epic water fight.