Australia — An evacuation drill in the town of Noojee, in the hills of west Gippsland, has tested the ability of fire agencies and the community to cope with a bushfire emergency.
In the CFA shed in Noojee, a small town of a couple of hundred people in the hills of West Gippsland, an emergency management team is assembled and discussing a dire scenario for a developing bushfire.
“We had fires burning to the north-west of the Noojee township that were going to be impacted on by a code red fire day. So we had a fire danger index of 100 or greater and we knew that the conditions that were going to impact on this fire in the next 12 to 15 hours were going to be extreme as Black Saturday or Ash Wednesday type of conditions,” says incident controller Andy Gilham.
The fire was expected to surround Noojee and eventually burn through the township.
Luckily for the residents of Noojee this scenario is completely made-up. It’s an exercise to allow fire agencies, and the community, to practice a town evacuation.
Noojee is the first of two high-risk bushfire towns that will undergo trial evacuations this week during the State Government’s Fire Action Week. Lavers Hill, in the Otway Ranges, will also practice a town evacuation on Friday. Both communities are in remote locations surrounded by thick bush, they have limited communication and have no designated neighbourhood safer places.
The fire drills come out of a recommendation from the Royal Commission into the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires. The Royal Commission found that fire agencies could do a better job of preparing towns for evacuation.
Minister for Bushfire Response Peter Ryan says the pilot evacuations would test community response.
“(They) are designed to help develop emergency management models to use in preparing fire-prone communities right across Victoria.”
Incident Controller at the Noojee exercise Andy Gilham, says the emergency management team made the decision to evacuate the town based on the predictions laid out in the scenario.
“This involved around about 50 to 60 houses, about 200 people, who would receive an emergency alert to tell these people that we are recommending evacuation because of the code red day.”
Residents were advised to assemble at the Noojee Primary School where they would be escorted out of town safely.
Noojee local David Clarke who was among those lining up to register his details with Victoria Police at the Noojee Primary School said the evacuation drill appeared to have worked well.
“We got a recorded message on the landline. It advised us to evacuate to the school.
“I think this is a worthwhile exercise for Noojee, because Noojee has no safe area in the event of a bushfire. The bush is so close to everything. It is useful to know what would happen if there was a need to evacuate.”