Australia –THOUSANDS of students are potentially in danger because WA schools are not prepared for the bushfire season.
The Sunday Times can reveal that nearly 200 schools have been identified by the Education Department as “high-risk” if there is a serious bushfire.
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Among the schools are many in the South-West, including Nannup District High School, Vasse Primary School, Esperance Senior High School and Margaret River’s St Thomas More Catholic Primary School.
Several metropolitan schools, including Leeming Senior High School and Wanneroo Senior High School, are considered high-risk.
The Education Department, which compiled the list for the 2011-12 summer, asked the Fire and Emergency Services Authority, in September, for advice on how to assess fuel loads near schools.
So far, only 25 schools in the Perth Hills area have been assessed.
Of these, seven were deemed at risk and required “hazard reduction burns”.
Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Margaret Quirk feared many more schools required controlled burns, but were yet to be properly assessed.
It was a concern shared by United Firefighters Union WA secretary Graeme Geer, who said a lack of resources meant there were not enough firefighters to audit at-risk locations.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times can reveal the Education Department has identified more than 1000 evaporative airconditioners at schools, which need to be fitted with ember-protection guards. Without the guards, the airconditioners are considered highly flammable.
Up to 35 homes were destroyed in the February’s Perth Hills bushfires when airconditioners caught fire.
Department of Education executive director for infrastructure, John Fischer, said a program to roll out the guards was under way.
“There are no manufacturers of ember screens in WA and so (the department’s) Building Management and Works is exploring the possibility of developing a local industry to meet demand,” he said.
Ms Quirk said it was a worry that some “fundamental safeguards” required for WA schools were yet to undertaken. “It shows the Government’s complete naivety to the dangers,” she said.
Education Minister Liz Constable said 137 government schools, 37 Catholic schools and 24 independent schools were considered at being high-risk if there was a catastrophic bushfire.
Last night, Dr Constable said WA schools had “never been better prepared”.
She said the department was working closely with FESA to determine what needed to be done to address fuel loads near schools.