Bushfire scenario event is a great success

by Sandi Miller
7th November 2016

What is it like to survive a bush fire? About 100 people learnt (the easy way) from those who found out the hard way as part of the Be Ready Warrandyte initiative.

The audience heard from bush fire survivors, Joff Manders, who lived through bush fires in Warrandyte in the 1960s, Steve Pascoe, a resident of Strathewen who lost his whole community on Black Saturday, and Julia Robertson, who lost her home in Flannery Court two years ago.

A realistic scenario was played out across the evening, using a timeline of events, from ignition to recovery, of a fire sweeping through Warrandyte.

The audience heard a frank description of what living through such an event was like, overlayed with ideas and advice on how to make effective choices at every turn.

School principals, the police and fire brigade and other community leaders offered insight into the policy and procedures local institutions follow to keep the community safe.

Quinton’s IGA’s Julie Quintin reminded residents the supermarket would not necessarily be available as a place of refuge as her policy is to evacuate the store to keep her staff safe in the event of a major incident.

“You may turn up to see the lights on and the generator running, but it will be locked up and you won’t have access,” she said.

Warrandyte High School principal Dr Steven Parkin said local schools have been given funding to bolster the school’s fire refuges against bush fire impact.

Sue Dyos, acting principal of Anderson’s Creek Primary School, told parents the school had procedures to deal with such a scenario an it is safer to leave children at school.

“Don’t put yourself in danger to come and collect your kids, they will be in a safe place,” she said.

Local police sergeant Stewart Henderson discussed the likely conditions on the road in a fire and pointed out roads would be thick with smoke and clogged with traffic, making travel perilous.

Sgt Henderson also reminded the audience that once the fire had been through, if an area is deemed unsafe by the fire brigade you would not be allowed past roadblocks.

“So you may be gone for days,” he said.

Julia Robertson gave a gripping recount of her family’s experience during the Flannery Court fire, outlining all of the things she had wished she had done to be better prepared and how the loss of her home had impacted her.

“No one thinks it will happen to them, but it does,” she said.

She told how not knowing whether or not her family was alive were the worst hours of her life.

“I discovered a home is built from memories and relationships not from possessions,” she said.

CFA chief officer Craig Lapsley rounded out the evening with his insights into bush fire survival.

“Find two ways to find information… being informed gives you choices and helps you make better decisions,” he said.

Mr Lapsley praised Warrandyte for being a smart, connected and well resourced community and said Warrandyte as a community had the resilience to survive a major bush fire.

“Don’t be scared, but take it seriously, work out where the stresses are and stick together,” he said. Warrandyte Community Association president Dick Davies said the focus of the night was to examine how the community was going to be able to pick up the pieces if a bush fire comes through Warrandyte.

“If things do go wrong, if we do lose lots of houses, or even lives, you need to know what to expect. There will be social dislocation and social dysfunction and it’ll be up to the community to put that stuff right,” Mr Davies said.

Facilitator Steve Pascoe told the Diary since he spoke to the Warrandyte community two years ago there had been a major shift into leaving early and this event has been able to highlight what that means; that is having a plan of exactly where to go, what you need to take and how to cope with the aftermath.

“The strange mix of elation and guilt that you have survived where others have not – it is a tough thing to deal with,” he said.

A major theme of the night was that things don’t always go to plan and despite planning to leave, people may still get caught at home, so residents need to prepare for that eventuality.

Mr Lapsley told the Diary he believed the event was timely because November is the time to begin preparing for the bush fire season.

“Whatever you have to do on your property, if you don’t start in November, it’ll beat you,” he said.

Warrandyte Neighbourhood House is running a Fire Plan Workshop on November 26.