Chief warns of bushfire complacency

December 8, 2012, 15:09

Pilots Andy Thomas (left) and Paul Kearns at Essendon airport for the arrival of the firefighting helicopter Elvis.

COUNTRY Fire Authority boss Euan Ferguson has warned of a ''troubling level of complacency'' among residents in at-risk communities, at the beginning of a summer when the state can expect ''lots of fires''.

For the first time since the late 1990s, Mr Ferguson said Victoria was facing a fire season that could be considered ''normal'', after years of drought were followed by two wet summers. But historically, in ''normal'' Victorian fire seasons, homes could be destroyed by bushfires, he warned.

Mr Ferguson's warning comes with the state facing on Saturday temperatures in the high 30s and winds later in the day of up to 40km/h.

A severe fire danger rating and a total fire ban has been declared for the Mallee, Wimmera, north central and northern country districts. While for the rest of the state the fire danger rating is ''very high'' or ''high''.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Ferguson expressed concern that recent wet summers had dimmed
the awareness among some people of the threat posed by bushfires.

''We still think there's a troubling level of complacency out there,'' he said. ''Generally our survey says that there's about a third of the population [who] hear the message, understand the risk and largely do the right thing. There's about a third of the population who hear the message, probably don't have a [fire] plan and are only partly prepared for the fire season.
''And then there's about a third of the population, and I've got to say a lot of these are Gen X, Gen Y-type people … and it's just noise to them. It's just not on their radar screen.''

While Victoria was facing different conditions to the 2008-09 summer, when more than 2100 homes were destroyed by bushfires, Mr Ferguson illustrated the threat to homes during a typical fire season by pointing to recent research covering many decades on home losses due to bushfires.

''In similar seasons there'd been losses down to zero, but up to 24 homes, lost in a normal fire season. So we might be lucky, we might dodge the bullet. But we have an expectation that even in a normal fire season that we're going to lose homes somewhere,'' he said.

''Whilst we're saying it's a normal fire season, we are one of the most fire-prone places on earth. And a normal fire season for us still means lots of fires, [and] a proportion of those fires we won't be able to control until the weather conditions change.''

Mr Ferguson also expressed concern that some people were still prepared to leave it to the last minute to make a decision to leave a house threatened by fire.

''What we're saying is, at the first sign [of fire], you should leave. Or if it's a code red, or extreme, or a severe day, you should consider leaving the night before,'' he said.

''Many people fail to understand that they live in an area where their life, their family, their home, their property, are at real risk of bushfire. And they fail to understand what makes them at risk of bushfire, and they fail to understand what they can do to mitigate that risk.''

Speaking at Essendon Airport on Friday to mark the arrival of the giant firefighting helicopter ''Elvis'', Deputy Premier Peter Ryan highlighted the potential for dangerous grassfires this summer.

''We have had a lot of rain, there has been a lot of growth and so it is those grassfires which probably represent the greatest threat,'' he said.

Mr Ryan urged people to have a fire plan and to ''remember the basic message going in to this summer - if you are in two minds, then leave. Because if you wait, it may be too late.''

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the ''scorcher'' forecast for Saturday should act as an important reminder for people to think about fire preparations. ''Are their properties in the right condition, do they have a fire plan, is there anything else they should be talking to their neighbor or their friends and family about?'' she said.

source : theage

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