Australia–– SCHOOLS are set to become the first community fire refuges in some of Melbourne’s most bushfire-prone areas this summer, Victoria’s fire services commissioner says.
Craig Lapsley said he was close to announcing the exact locations of four fire refuges under a pilot program for the coming bushfire season.
While one will be in the shire of Moorabool, northwest of Melbourne, three will be in the Yarra Ranges in Melbourne’s outer east, parts of which are densely populated and very fire-prone.
Mr Lapsley said all the refuges would be in existing buildings rather than stand-alone bunkers, with final assessments of the sites now under way.
The Yarra Ranges pilot sites are likely to be spread across the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra and Warburton valleys, he said.
“We’re going to use current buildings and in there we’re aiming to be at either schools, fire stations, community halls and the like,” he told AAP on Wednesday.
“The focus in Yarra Ranges is on schools, so our planning is being done around some of the schools.
“We’re just very cautious at the moment about community expectation and we want to make sure we’re 100 per cent right with the assessments (before confirming the locations).”
The establishment of community fire refuges was one of 67 recommendations of the Bushfires Royal Commission into the 2009 Black Saturday fires, which killed 173 people.
Last month, the Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor (BRCIM) found construction costs and liability issues had hampered the setting up of designated refuges, as well as neighbourhood safer places.
Victoria’s sole community fire refuge is located in an old gold mining tunnel at Woods Point, northeast of Melbourne.
Mr Lapsley said determining the site of a community refuge was a complex process, with the buildings having to meet many standards, including design, location and surrounding buildings and vegetation.
“The pilot we run is not so much about the infrastructure, it’s about what people’s behaviour will be – how it will operate on the day. We want to learn a lot about the behaviour of people,” he said.
Mr Lapsley said refuges were only places of last resort and the best action was to evacuate.
“Even going to the refuge you’ll see that you’ll still suffer. It will be extremely hot. It will be very smoky. It can be very traumatic,” he said.
The community refuge in the Moorabool shire will be in Blackwood.
The site will not be a school, and in the longer term could be part of a new fire station, the fire services commissioner said.