Fire fighter blacklist

Fire fighter blacklist

1 November 2009

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Australia —

Hundreds of homes have been unofficially blacklisted and will not be defended by the Tasmania Fire Service this summer.

Recently retired fire service chief John Gledhill said the “blacklist” includes suburbs on growing urban fringes that are too risky to enter and fight a major bushfire.

He said some of these residents would be advised to get out if a serious bushfire threatened their area.

Mr Gledhill, who retired from the TFS in August after 35 years, including 15 in the top job, refused to identify the areas for fear of alarming the public.

“We have got areas that we have identified that we won’t go to because they’re too risky,” he said.

“It is a blacklist of sorts. I’m not going to say where they are; it’s not in the best interests of anyone to do that.”

But the Tasmanian Fire Service today denied that some outer-Hobart suburbs have been labelled “indefensible”in the event of a major bushfire.

But Chief Officer Mike Brown has repeated warnings that fire fighters will not protect properties in fire-prone areas that have not been properly prepared.

“We have a bushfire triage policy where or crews look at where a bushfire is predicated to travel to and we will assess properties ahead of the fire front and put them into categories whether they are defensible or not,” Mr Brown said.

“Some people in bushfire prone areas do the right thing and prepare their properties and there are some not necessarily doing the right thing.

“We can’t really put it in terms of whole townships and suburbs in one category.”

Mr Gledhill warned Tasmanians not to be complacent in the lead-up to the fire season, despite the record rainfall this year.

He said this year’s weather pattern had an eerie resemblance to that of 1966 — before Tasmania was hit by its worst fires on Black Tuesday in February 1967, when 64 people died and more than 1500 homes were lost.

“There is an uncanny resemblance to 1966, it’s eerie,” he said.

“I don’t want to be a prophet of doom but in ’66 there was an extremely wet winter, followed by huge spring growth, and just like now the state becomes a fire pot of grass and trees that are just more fuel for a fire.”

Senior severe weather forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology, Paul Fox Hughes, said there had been almost identical rainfall in September 1966 and September 2009 — recording 133mm and 134mm respectively.
However, he said it was too early to forecast the same dire weather pattern that contributed to the 1967 tragedy.

“There is a similarity between the seasons in that they were both particularly wet,” Mr Fox Hughes said.

“But in ’66 the rain was followed by a summer of higher than average temperatures and less than average rain, and right now it’s too early to determine whether we will see that this summer.”

Mr Gledhill said historically Tasmania endured a big fire every 30 to 40 years, and it was well overdue.

“Our last big fire was 42 years ago and we are well overdue for a catastrophic fire,” he said.

“If we can learn anything from history it is that we must not be complacent.

“History tells us we’re due for one, and those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.”

He said now was the time for property owners to prepare.

“Tasmanians are more vulnerable than ever because the urban fringe is encroaching more and more into the dense forests and steep terrain,” he said.

“People need to take greater personal responsibility for their own situation and develop their own plan, decide whether they’ll stay or go and begin preparing their property now.

“There is no use waiting for the fire to get to the back fence before you decide these things.

“The time is now. It is a matter of life and death.”

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