By Colin MacGillivray
WHITTLESEA firefighters have warned against complacency this summer as Victoria prepares for what could be a wetter-than-average bushfire season.
Forecasted La Niña conditions could bring more rainfall than usual this summer, but Whittlesea Fire Brigade captain Jeff Rowden said increased rainfall would lead to the growth of grasses and plants, increasing fuel loads.
“Just because we’re going to have, hopefully, a wet summer this year, it doesn’t mean we can’t still have fires – especially grass fires with the extra fuel load we’ll get from the extra rain and all these nice sunny days where everything starts to grow really well,” he said.
“We’re pushing for people to use this time to clean up around their properties – things like cutting grass, creating fire breaks around their house, getting rid of fuel on the ground and having a big tidy up.
“Especially on the rural-urban fringe where people are on larger blocks, they can have burnoffs on their property right up to the start of the fire season and clear up that extra fuel load on the ground.
Mr Rowden said it was vital for people to have a fire plan and revise it every year.
“A lot of people have a fire plan but don’t actually implement it,” he said.
“People can get complacent if we have a couple of seasons where we don’t get a fire.
“Some people might have a fire plan to get out of the house, but if a fire starts nearby they haven’t got anything built into their plan about what to do if it is too late to leave and they get stuck in the house.
“Your fire plan has got to include what you’re going to do on the day. If you’re going to go, fantastic, but if you get stuck, what are you going to do?
“Your fire plan has to be flexible and fairly in-depth, because things don’t always go to plan.”
Mr Rowden said people could find ‘a wealth of information’ on how to prepare for bushfire season and make a fire plan at cfa.vic.gov.au.
He said getting in touch with a local CFA brigade was also an excellent way to learn what to do.
“If people contact the fire brigade we can actually visit their property and have a chat and point them in the right direction,” he said.
“There are sections within the CFA that will come out and do a property inspection and give advice, especially with rural properties, on tidying up around the house and different aspects of preparing properties for fires.”
Whittlesea Fire Brigade captain Jeff Rowden said suburban areas further south in the City of Whittlesea were still at risk of fires and residents should not be complacent.
He said a fire in Plenty Gorge Park last summer had caught many people unaware.
“People think that if they’re living in a suburb they’re immune from bushfires, but they’re not, and Plenty Gorge is a classic example,” he said.
“There are some new estates popping up around it and people just don’t realise that they can be impacted by things like ember showers from a decent fire in the gorge.
“Ember showers will impact multiple streets into an estate, so [people in those areas] do need to have a fire plan.
“Most of the fire plans, if you live in an estate that’s adjacent to a rural area, recommend to go two streets in. If you’re right on the boundary, go two streets back and you’ll be fairly safe while the CFA comes in and protects the properties along the border.
“We don’t want everybody taking off and jamming up all the roads, so the advice is to only go two streets in.
“Again, for the people who live in the suburbs near areas that could be impacted like Plenty Gorge, there is plenty of information online and all the surrounding fire brigades in those areas will be more than happy to take calls and give advice on where they can find information to build their own fire plans.”
People can contact the Whittlesea Fire Brigade by calling 9716 2133 or search Google for their nearest brigade.
More information on how to create a fire plan is available at cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare.