Kinglake West residents say there was no warning of bushfires

  Kinglake West residents say there was no warning of bushfires

24 March 2009

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Australia — A new warning system was among concerns for residents of Kinglake West at a meeting with the bushfire royal commission today.

The commission heard story after story of people caught completely off-guard by the rapid pace of the inferno that engulfed the Kinglake area after a rapid wind change on Black Saturday.

“We need some better form of warnings,” said Rowan Sharp of Pheasant Creek.

“People got caught in their houses who didn’t know there was a fire on their doorstep.

“Kinglake West was mentioned on the radio and within no time at all it was here. One minute there was nothing and the next minute there was fire.

“And we need to upgrade the escape routes. The road down to St Andrews could now be upgraded because the national park has been destroyed. We’d then have escape routes to the north, south, east and west.”

The community consultation day is part of the commission’s task of narrowing the isses that are most important in the fire ravaged areas ahead of formal hearing, starting in May.

Mr Sharp said he spent nearly 24 hours fighting the blaze across his farm but he managed to save his house.

“We had a mobile tanker and a generator plus we had English trees round the house,” he said. “The native trees just went up but the English trees and even the pines didn’t burn like you would expect.”

Frank Muscolino said he had twice saved his home from bushfires, including on Black Saturday.

He saved his property because he only had non-native trees close to his home and he said the royal commission had to ensure people were discouraged from having gum trees near their homes.

He said eucalyptus oil was as powerful as aviation fuel and no house should have a gum tree within 100 metres.

“We have to learn this lesson the hard way,” said Mr Muscolino from Strath Creek.

Richard Walters from Kinglake East saved his home but lost his sawmill in the inferno.

“I had a fire two years ago so the fuel load was very reduced and the intensity was as great as anywhere else in the Kinglake area,” he said.

“I’ve been advocating not burning the forest because it weakens it and it destroys its integrity in terms of its ability to withstand strong winds.”

Mr Walters said the commission had to examine how the fires started.

“The government has spent millions on anti-terrorism measures but a terrorist can be someone with a box of matches. A dollar investment and you can burn the state down,” Mr Walters said.

He also said that the commission must look at what should be done to allow people to make their properties defensible and to tackle council opposition to removing trees.

He said there was a proposal several years ago to build a new CFA station at Strathewen, opposite the local primary school, but it was knocked back because two trees would have had to be removed.

“If the (Black Saturday) fire had been on a weekday there would have been three school loads of kiddies in this area gone,” Mr Walters said.

“That attitude (of the council) has not changed.”

The community consultation day is continuing and the commission will be in Bendigo tomorrow.

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