Australia — Ovals, trotting tracks, recreation parks and waterfront areas throughout the state have been identified as shelters of last resort for residents fleeing bushfires.
Yesterday, one of the refuges, Houghton Oval in one of the state’s highest risk areas in the Adelaide Hills, was padlocked on the day it was named as the last hope for those who had left their escape too late.
That oval is just a few kilometres from Anstey Hill Recreation Park where a fire burned more than 100ha in November, 2004.
CFS chief officer Euan Ferguson conceded there were no guarantees firefighters could help defend the refuges but the CFS “would make every attempt to allocate resources there to assist in the protection of people and give them confidence”.
“We know it’s going to be very, very rough … the presence of CFS trucks and firefighters will … add confidence to people who do have to shelter there,” he said.
Mr Ferguson said 16 council areas with the highest risk of bushfire had been identified first and more areas would be added to the list in an ongoing process.
“We’ve had officers who have gone there, assessed the vegetation, slope and aspect, and the modelling is saying people who stand on the oval can survive the radiant heat from catastrophic fire around the area,” Mr Ferguson said.
“However, the fact is a number of these last-resort refuges are surrounded by forest. It’s still going to be a pretty hard job to take refuge there.
“What we’re seeing with these severe fires are massive amounts of burning embers. I don’t want to underestimate the difficulty of surviving a fire in these areas, they really are refuges of last resort.”
Anyone planning to go early – the night before or on the morning of a catastrophic or severe fire danger day – should relocate to one of the 54 “bushfire safer precincts”, including outer suburbs or rural towns or to a “safer settlement”, which is the Adelaide metropolitan area or urban precincts of rural cities.
The areas assessed so far have been in the Lower Eyre Peninsula, Kangaroo Island, Lower South East, Mid North, Mt Lofty Ranges and the Murraylands.
CFS Volunteers Association president Ken Schutz said the exceptional winter rains meant the potential for bushfires was extreme. “I live at Pinnaroo in the Mallee. I haven’t seen a year like this for about 20 years, the amount of growth out here is phenomenal,” Mr Schutz said.
“It’s one of the best seasons we’ve had in a long time, which makes our circumstances the worst … as far as fuel goes. It has the potential to be the worst fire season in a long time.”
Kangaroo Island mayor Jayne Bates said the listed areas of last resort on the island “make sense to me, and they will evolve over time”. She said islanders were good at supporting each other and were preparing for the upcoming fire season.
“We’ve got a community that is extremely aware of the bushfires because of the history of fires on this island,” Mrs Bates said.
“Right now is exactly the right time to start preparation for your own property. I think the community does understand that fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility.”
Port Lincoln mayor Peter Davis echoed calls for early preparation for the fire season, calling on residents to reduce their fuel loads.
“To me, fighting fire is comparable with a guerrilla war, you never know where the enemy is going to strike and the enemy will be unpredictable – the only way you can defend yourself is to reduce the fuel loads,” Mr Davis said.
“These poor bastards, the CFS volunteers that have to go out and risk their lives, the best thing we can do is reduce the fuel.”
He agreed on ovals as a last resort, but also suggested heading for the sea. “It’s called common sense,” he said. “It’s about time individuals start taking responsibility for our own fire protection and own escape.”