Bushfire risk in hands of residents

Bushfire risk in hands of residents

11 March 2009

published by www.thewesterner.com.au

Australia —  Government authorities and rural fire brigades insist they are doing enough to curb bushfire threats in the Moreton Bay region, noting that apathetic residents are most at risk from natural disasters.

In the wake of the horrific bushfires that devastated communities in rural Victoria, claimed at least 210 lives and left a damage bill in the billions has been the questioning of bushfire prevention strategies and emergency response methods.

State Member for Kurwongbah Linda Lavarch believes information about bushfire preparedness available to local residents is adequate. She said the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service’s Bushfire Prepared Communities program, which offers practical fire prevention advice to residents, was set to resume ahead of Queensland’s bushfire season in August.

“No doubt there will be a number of lessons learnt coming from the Victorian bushfires and these will be incorporated where appropriate into any educative programs we deliver,” she said.

Ms Lavarch added that fire crews around Brisbane’s iZone, where residential areas meet bushland, have already developed local action plans for bushfires that are updated when necessary.

Moreton Bay Region councillor Bob Millar (Division 11) said there wasn’t much more authorities could do to inform residents about bushfire risks “short of running around the streets with a megaphone”.

“Whilst many people undertake measures to minimise the risk of bushfire to their property in the lead-up to fire season, the irregularity and relatively low occurrence of serious bushfires in our own part of the world does contribute to a level of apathy by many of the residents,” Cr Millar said.

Bellthorpe Rural Fire Brigade First Officer Gary Uhlmann said residents had taken on board bushfire advice “to a degree”.

Mr Uhlmann said people were generally “pretty blasé” about fire threats and his brigade’s information programs.

“Nobody turns up because they’re not interested until something happens,” he said. “What more can you do? You can’t go and stick a rope around their neck and drag them (residents) along.

“You can’t force them to do it, you’ve just got to be prepared for when fire happens.”

Mt Mee resident Ian Wells, who lives in a heavily forested area, said rural fire brigades did a good job providing information to residents.

“They’re forever at us and saying ‘we should do this, we should do that’ … and the level of publicity is good and they even put on little demonstrations,” he said.

“I don’t think the Victorian bushfires have changed my view very much except that I don’t think I’d ever consider staying and defending (my property). If it looked nasty I’d get out and run like hell.”

Gary McCormack from the Rural Fire Service Queensland said the option to evacuate or stay and defend a home, which has been heavily scrutinised following the heavy loss of life in the Victorian disaster, remains at the discretion of residents.

“Currently, yes we do endorse the ‘prepare, stay and defend or go early’ policy but it will be revised, I’m sure, as we wait to see the responses from the Royal Commission enquiry into the Victorian disaster,” he said.

Early last year an Early Warning System, designed to advise residents about possible natural disaster threats, was constructed at Mt Nebo, one of the highest bushfire risk areas in Queensland.

The device, the only one of its kind in the state, issues a three-phase warning siren that can be heard 3km away. The system, which indicates the risk posed by danger and whether residents have enough time to evacuate the area, also sends alerts to phones warning of impending danger.

Mt Nebo resident Jessica Bradford said the mountain community had welcomed the system, which was recently used in a bushfire simulation activity and will be fully tested in July.

“You don’t want to be left in the dark until the last minute when a fire is on your doorstep,” she said.

“I do feel more secure up here knowing that there’s a warning system in place letting us know about any danger before it arrives.”

In the wake of the Victorian bushfire disaster, it is expected similar systems could be introduced in bushfire hotspots around the nation.
Ms Lavarch said the Queensland Government had taken a keen interest in the development of a “nationally consistent community emergency warning system”.

Mr McCormack said community awareness of bushfire prevention had been heightened by the Victorian tragedy.

“We’ve definitely had an increase in the number of enquiries about if the risk exists in our own backyards,” he said.

“Here we have different vegetation types, different landscapes and climatic conditions, and while the risk is still present it’s a different risk to what they have in Victoria and New South Wales.

“Having said that, we do have some high risk areas here and our bushfire mitigation measures need to be continued to address that risk.”

Mr Uhlmann said that local residents could ill afford to be nonchalant about their safety.

“If you get the conditions right and the temperature right, where we are, on the top of a hill, fire travels pretty quick up hills and it can come up pretty bad,” he said.

“It’s been a long time since there’s been a really bad fire. It will happen again one day, but who knows when?”

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