AFTER several months of exceptionally dry weather, our district – like many others across Queensland – is again on a heightened bushfire watch.
Living adjacent to such a significant stretch of beautiful but tinder dry bushland, this means our neighbourhood is facing an increased fire risk.
And while council had earlier planned a controlled burn on a nearby, central portion of the Dawn Road Reserve, the council has advised that this burn has been postponed due to unsuitable weather conditions. It may now go ahead after Christmas.
Important community meeting
In the meantime, on Saturday, October 5, 2013, the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service, the Rural Fire Service, the State Emergency Service and the Moreton Bay Regional Council convened a well-attended community meeting at Mahaca Park in Malvern Rd, Albany Creek, to address a range of safety issues in emergency situations, most especially bushfires.
More than 45 local residents, plus more than a dozen representatives from the various agencies, attended the one-hour session from 10am.
the law in Queensland stipulates that the ultimate decision whether to evacuate falls to either the Queensland Police Service or the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service/Rural Fire Service
Led off by the council’s Fire Management Officer, Bruce Bunkum, the meeting was told that, since Victoria’s royal commission held after the tragic 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, a national approach to disaster planning was being enacted.
Start preparing now
Indeed, much of the preparation for fire season is also needed in preparation for the storm season, which is just around the corner. It was pointed out at this meeting that newer residents may not, for example, realise that Albany Creek was among the three hardest-hit suburbs during what became known as The Gap storm (microburst) on November 16, 2008.
Other emergencies our community could face include floods, heatwaves, east coast lows (extreme weather events) and even tropical cyclones (and we’re overdue for one to cross the coast in South-East Queensland).
QFRS officers and members of our various volunteer bush fire brigades (Rural Fire Service) were on hand to provide expert tips as well as answers to plenty of questions.
Those who attended heard not only about the need for the community to become more self-sufficient in times of emergency but also were given:
- plenty of tips about long-term safety precautions for lives and property
- an important request to call 000 in the event of a fire, not the local fire station at Eatons Hill, and to give precise details of the place (nearest streets) as well as any houses or properties under threat
- a reminder to download and share information only from official sources (hence the links in this posting go to these agencies)
- an understanding of how important it is to have a plan and to prepare early, to make the decision whether to stay or go (and, if going, go early) to ensure personal safety
- advice on the safest place to go if their fire plan goes awry
- a sober reminder that, in peak fire season or other emergencies, resources could be stretched and response times extended.
The risks should not be underestimated
Experienced QFRS station officer Kim Llewellyn and Rural Fire Service volunteer community education officer Karen Thompson explained to the crowd that the area – which includes Albany Parkside and the nearby estates of Woodlands, Country Club and Clarendon – are in what’s known as the “I Zone” or “urban interface”, where homes are adjacent to bushland and, hence, at greater risk if fire takes off in nearby reserves or parks.
Even if the main fire seems to be contained within bushland, the officers explained, embers and spot fires can travel up to several kilometers in windy conditions, so careful environmental and perimeter monitoring is needed.
They also explained that the QFRS is only equipped to respond to homes under threat as its bulkier tankers do not go “off road”. The Rural Fire Service’s smaller 4WD trucks have the ability to get further into high fire risk areas.
In peak fire season, however, both services will already be busy, so residents need to do whatever they can to reduce fire risks ahead of time, including:
- ensure garden beds covered in wood chip or mulch do not run up to or along houses
- remove shrubs or plants that may be scrambling over wooden fences
- make sure gutters and downpipes are well maintained, with leaves and other litter cleared away regularly (burning embers can cause fires in roofs, window sills and patios where leaf litter is present)
- ensure house numbers are readily visible from the street (important for all emergencies)
- stay abreast of any warnings by listening to radio, checking websites or monitoring alerts sent to mobile or home phones.
QFRS officer Llewellyn explained that, in the event of a fire, he would typically do a quick risk assessment of the area – before he’d send in fire-fighters – by driving past and noting any unprepared houses. He said he would not “risk lives” to fight fires on unprepared properties.
Best place to start
The most important advice was given out in the form of the Prepare.Act.Survive brochure, which is accessible online or by calling the RFS Rural Operations headquarters at Caboolture on 5420 1333.
Please ensure you obtain/print out, read and keep this booklet handy. Its centre four pages can be easily removed and kept as your household’s fire plan.
Ratings information may save lives
In that booklet the new, national Fire Danger Rating system is also explained in detail. It has two extra categories, Extreme and Catastrophic, added since February 2009. RFS officer Ms Thompson said residents should be ready to evacuate any time after the Very High risk level is reached. Authorities are likely to begin evacuating an area if the Severe level is declared.
Practical things to do ahead of time
There are a number of ways to find out the latest information during fire and other emergencies. These include:
- Register for MoretonAlert warning service (at www.moretonbay.qld.gov.au/moretonalert) or call 3205 0555 – this service will send a TXT to a mobile or a voice message to a nominated landline and an email (ensure it’s one you can access all hours) and, if the risk rises, a pre-recorded voice message will be sent to home phones and, with imminent risks, sirens can be made to sound from home phones
- Tune your battery operated radio to ABC612 AM or 101.5FM or 99.7FM
- Connect to MBRC’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MoretonBayCouncil)
- Follow the MBRC on Twitter (www.twitter.com/MBRCdisaster)
All agencies have had considerable success with Facebook communication, with messages quickly being spread within minutes of being posted. The MoretonAlert service has been going for years and is “tried and tested”, residents were told.
Moreton Bay SES Unit officer Shane said the more resilient residents are, the better SES support can be delivered to those most in need.
Being prepared, he suggests, means that – ideally – households with no or minimal damage, that are not at immediate risk, should be ready to go without assistance for at least 72 hours after a natural disaster. That’s about the time the power was out after the November 2008 storm. The SES has an all-emergency Get Ready guide.
Get your ‘Preparedness Pack’
To help residents prepare, Moreton Bay Regional Council is also making handy “Preparedness Packs” available at all council offices and libraries at a cost of $25 ($12.50 for pensioners) to help residents become more resilient. It also has a useful How ready are you? brochure that you may see around, especially next week (October 14-20), which has been designated Get Ready Week across Queensland.
(Authorities) will make that decision based on how well your property/neighbourhood is prepared, how fierce/dangerous the conditions are and what resources are available to assist property owners fight the fire.
Finally, the law in Queensland stipulates that the ultimate decision whether to evacuate falls to either the Queensland Police Service or the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service/Rural Fire Service. They will make that decision based on how well your property/neighbourhood is prepared, how fierce/dangerous the conditions are and what resources are available to assist property owners fight the fire.
Residents are reminded that they are obliged to observe their instructions, which will be issued with their personal safety in mind.
MBRC’s Suggested Course of Action in an Emergency
If you receive advice about an event in your area:
- activate your emergency plan
- locate your emergency kit
- (if it’s flooding) position sandbags (see www.moretonbay.qld.gov.au/sandbags)
- secure loose items, outdoor furniture, pets and livestock
- monitor emergency and evacuation advice by radio, other media and social media
- if you need to evacuate – take your emergency kit and your evacuation kit
- turn off electricity, gas and water
- check road conditions before setting off (www.moretonbay.qld.gov.au/roadconditions)
- evacuate to friends and family, away from the threat area
- if your plan goes awry, go to a Neighbourhood Safer Place (full list for the region is online)
IMPORTANT NOTE: In an emergency, our closest Neighbourhood Safer Place is the open space at South Pine Sporting Complex off South Pine Rd at Eatons Hill (turn right at the Eatons Crossing Road intersection and head down the hill.
Numbers/websites to note
000 (state clearly type of emergency)
13 19 62
Energex Loss of Power
13 62 62 (www.energex.com.au)
Queensland Electrical Safety Office
1300 650 662
13 42 25 84 (www.health.qld.gov.au/foodsafety)
State’s road conditions
13 19 40
Financial assistance (Qld Govt)
1800 173 349 (www.qld.gov.au/community/disasters-emergencies)
MBRC waste services
Useful fire safety tips available online
In case you missed the October 5 session or you still have some questions, much of the detail discussed at that meeting is available online at various helpful websites listed below.
Here you will find especially useful information, including how to prepare, act and survive a bushfire.
They’re certainly worth considering well before you find yourself in that position.
This series of eight short videos (each between approx. 2 mins and 6.5 mins long) is well worth watching to learn about: bushfire facts and behaviour, fire ratings and warnings, preparing you and your property, precautions and checklists, acting to survive, surviving as well as fire bans and permits.
This lists handy information about hazards, bushfire risks, preparations for the bushfire season, preparing your property, fire management, hazard-reduction activities, council-planned burns, local laws pertaining to the lighting of fires, Declared Fire Danger Periods, fire bans, permits to light a fire, waste management alternatives to burning on your property, and smoke hazards.
This features the very useful Prepare.Act.Survive booklet which we should all download, read and act upon, given our proximity to the bushland all around us. It contains vital information about preparing a bushfire survival plan, preparing your property, preparing to leave early, preparing yourself (including mental and physical preparation), what to do if you decide to stay, what to do when the fire front arrives, long-term fire precautions, pre-Summer checklist, what you can do as the fire approaches, places to check around the home, sheltering during a fire, the need for a contingency plan, identifying neighbourhood safer places, approaching your property after a fire, returning home plus some handy FAQs.
Both the RFS website and its Prepare.Act.Survive booklet also outline the new national Fire Danger Rating Index and explain each of the new categories and how we should respond.
If you discover a neighbour doesn’t have internet access to this vital information, they can obtain a copy of this booklet from the Queensland Rural Fire Service at 1/25 Leda Boulevard, Morayfield or by calling (07) 5420 1333.
In addition to the critical links already mentioned above, this page also has links to handy information such as maintaining smoke alarms, arranging Safehome inspections, using fire outdoors and stopping bushfire arson.
The Rural Fire Service’s home page carries this information as events unfold.
The RFS depends on volunteers in fire-fighting as well as many different behind-the-scenes roles that are vital throughout the year, not just in fire season, including being an RFS Volunteer Community Educator
Finally, our next emergency may equally come during storm season
Before I sign off, it’s almost storm season, too, so let me reiterate the SES’s call for us to:
Step 1: Prepare an emergency plan
Step 2: Prepare an emergency kit
Step 3: Prepare our homes
Step 4: Tune into warnings
(in emergencies, ABC612 is an official emergency radio station)
PS for Facebook fans
IMPORTANT: Since I last wrote on a much earlier blog about the fire risk in our district (way back in 2007), there have been significant, national changes to policies, procedures and safety advice, largely due to research, forensic evaluations and a royal commission conducted after Victoria’s tragic February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Also, many of the original links on that 2007 blog posting have expired, so there are fresh ones here. Please make sure your household is bushfire prepared and stay safe.
Words: Trina McLellan
Pictures: Trina McLellan and Peter Bull (www.pbullmedia.wordpress.com)