Fire authorities urge Victorians to act early on high-risk days for bushfires

Fire authorities urge Victorians to act early on high-risk days for bushfires

13 January 2014

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Australia — A GRASSFIRE continues to burn in a blue gum plantation in the Trawalla area west of Ballarat.

Fire authorities have downgraded an emergency warning after homes in central Victoria came under threat by a fast-moving grassfire.

The CFA’s latest Watch and Act message, issued at 5:09pm, advises communities near Ballarat in Brewster, Chepstowe, Mount Emu and Mena Park are now safe from the blaze.

The fire is now about 250ha in size and is travelling in a south-westerly direction between Trawalla Road and the Beaufort-Carngham Road.

There is currently no threat to residents but fire crews are urging Victorians to remain vigilant and monitor conditions.

An emergency warning was first issued just before 4pm with livestock, farm houses and townships in the area under threat.

Spotfires were starting up to half a km in front of the fire front.

Meanwhile the CFA has declared a Total Fire Ban tomorrow in the Mallee, Wimmera, Northern Country, West and South Gippsland, Central, North Central and South West of the state.

The warnings follows this morning’s Herald Sun report that revealed most Victorians in high-risk bushfire areas would still ignore advice and “wait and see” if they should leave homes on days with Black Saturday-like conditions.

And if a fire was nearby, 23 per cent of Victorians in bushfire-prone communities would wait for emergency services to tell them when to leave, disturbing State Government research found.

A string of scorchers is expected to bake most parts of the state over the next few days, with the potential for a dangerous cocktail of strong winds and dry conditions later in the week.

Almost five years after Black Saturday fires claimed 173 lives and more than 2000 homes, authorities are warning about the dangers of a “she’ll be right” attitude.

Department of Justice research, based on interviews of hundreds of Victorians, has found that if a Code Red day was forecast, 63 per cent of people in high-risk communities would wait until the day to decide whether to leave or defend homes.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said although every firefighter in the state felt compelled to charge in and rescue people in danger, the grim reality was they would not always be able to on Code Red days.

“If you’re in high risk areas, you need to leave because there will not be a fire truck there to save you,” Mr Lapsley said.

“You have to take responsibility for your own safety.”

He said it was important to form proper plans and understand the role each family member might take, including how reactions may differ by gender and age.

Research has shown men typically turn to the role of “defender” and women become “protectors” who make decisions quickly on behalf of the family.

“Men often become very ‘do’ oriented,” he said.

Mr Lapsley said Code Red days occurred rarely, and that it was important to plan thoroughly for other high risk days, known as “Extreme” on the fire danger scale.

The Department of Justice research, based on interviews in November with 300 Victorians living in high-risk areas, also found that if a fire was nearby 40 per cent of people would wait and see before leaving or staying.

Nine in 10 people in those communities said they understood fire danger ratings, including “Code Red”, but only 45 per cent actually did.

Fire danger ratings indicate how dangerous a fire would be if one started.

Interviews with 310 people from high grassfire risk communities found only one in eight saw a risk to their safety.

Mr Lapsley said “the heat is in for the week” and it would “bake the state”.

“This sets us up for the remaining part of January and February which will become quite critical,” he said.

He called on Victorians to look out for vulnerable children and seniors during this week’s heatwave.

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