Our Catastrophic Fire Day Was Fortunately not Catastrophic
I want to thank and applaud all efforts made by everyone last week for what could have been a terrible Tuesday. While we most certainly had some fire events, the preparations and response by fire services and community allowed us to get on top of the problem as quickly as possible with a minimum of damage.
One of the beauties of our region is the vast amount of bushland – privately owned and natural, Crown Land, State Forests and National Parks. With this beauty comes significant fire risk during our hot dry summers. Controlling fires inside of our urban, cleared, residential areas is possible, but controlling fires in our rugged bushland is far more problematic. Fortunately, last week, our fires did not get into this largely uncontrollable fire land.
It is important to note that by and large the strategy for fire in bushland is to allow it burn until it is a threat to life and property. So don’t expect our brave fire men and women to be tracking deep into our bush to fight the fire, unless there is a strategic advantage to this in perhaps building a fire break.
There has been some chatter about the need to do more back-burning to prevent the worst of the fires by eating up their fuel before they start. There is some real common sense to this, especially in areas where bush and housing meet. There will no doubt be (I hope) a greater focus on this in the future.
One really important message from last week’s events is that we now have the ability and willingness to advise the wider community of these catastrophic days. Generally, the classification of catastrophic is only used on days when the humidity (moisture) in the air is very low, land very dry, temperatures high and winds strong.
As we all saw last week, the use of a catastrophic fire rating has a significant impact on community with schools and other services closed down and large numbers of people off work to look after their families. For business owners, this is a pretty big hit to their operations. For large government agencies it makes it hard to deliver basic services. Governments, and all political parties, are very aware of all of this so no one will be using the rating of catastrophic lightly. It will only be used in the most extreme and dangerous of circumstances.
So finally I urge this caution; please don’t be fooled by the absence of a terrible, widespread, catastrophic fire event in our local area last week; please don’t fall into a state of emergency warning fatigue. The very next time that we get these same warnings, likely to be again during this summer, please take note of all warnings and please make all necessary preparations as if your life depended on it, because it might. The tragic events on the mid-north coast last week could just as easily have been right here, in our neighbourhood. And maybe next time they will.