Australia–– THOUSANDS of homeowners have been told their places are “indefensible” this fire season due to a build-up of fuel.
The Department of Environment and Conservation confirmed parts of the state were so dangerous a “direct attack” by firefighters would be impossible, as it admitted meeting only half of its prescribed burning target in Perth and the South-West.
Volunteer fire brigade chiefs told The Sunday Times they would refuse to send in crews to some areas if a bushfire similar to last season’s Margaret River blaze broke out.
They said fuel loads were so huge in many housing estates and bushland reserves that sending in volunteers would be a “death trap”, singling out Yallingup, Margaret River, Denmark, Pemberton, Jarrahdale, Dwellingup and many Perth Hills estates as highly vulnerable.
To ensure firefighters will go into battle for them, homeowners have been told to clear their properties before the end of winter. Volunteer fire captain John Guest, of Balingup, said: “There’s areas in the South-West that are undefendable and many homes will be lost in severe fire conditions. In the South-West, virtually every shire has no-go zones.”
Another volunteer fire captain described large swaths of bushland and some residential estates as “death traps” into which he would not send volunteers if a big fire erupted.
Manjimup Bushfire Advisory Committee member Eddie Liddelow agreed fuel loads had reached crisis levels, particularly in lifestyle towns such as Margaret River, which had many absentee owners. Bushfire Front chairman Roger Underwood, a former general manager of the Department of Conservation and Land Management and an advocate of fuel-reduction burning, warned many properties were “indefensible” in severe weather.
“Some volunteer brigade captains are saying to us, ‘We’ll do it because that’s our job, but we are not keen to go into a lot of these places’,” he said.
A DEC spokesman said the department “acknowledges there are some areas in the South-West, including private properties, with heavy fuel loads where control by direct attack would not be possible”.
DEC has completed only 103,000ha of its 200,000ha notional prescribed burning target for 2011-12 in its forest regions southwest of a line from Lancelin to Denmark.
The spokesman said lack of rain, dry conditions and firefighting campaigns that tied up resources meant that targets were not met.
“Reducing the threat of bushfires is a shared responsibility and the onus rests with (residents) to reduce the risk to their property and also that of their neighbours,” Mr Bailey said.
“FESA strongly encourages people to create at least a 20 metre circle of safety around their home and other buildings … cleared of all rubbish, long dry grass, clusters of shrubs and any material that may catch fire.”
Emergency Services Minister Troy Buswell said the government added $40 million over the next four years to enhance FESA’s bushfire preparedness and response.
“In readiness for this season FESA will have additional appliances and water tankers in service or on standby, ready to respond in high risk areas if required,” he said, adding a large fleet of waterbombers was ready too.