PRE-FIRE season, first-draft Township Protection Plan consultations in South Gippsland’s coastal settlements on a weekday during business hours?
Sounds a bit strange when not a lot of people are around to attend their locality’s session at Sandy Point, Waratah Bay, Walkerville or Venus Bay, however according to Country Fire Authority (CFA) Township Protection Planning Coordinator Gary Burns there was method behind the sessions’ timing.
It was also a bit hard to summon up a sense of the coming fire season when flocks of Cape Barren Geese, swans, egrets and spoonbills were feeding in paddocks sheeted with excess water alongside the only road access into Sandy Point and hardly anyone could be seen.
However the vegetation growing lushly from the rains will dry out to make good fire fuel, and planning for situations such as a single access road that could easily become blocked by a fallen tree, an accident or choked with emergency vehicle traffic need to be considered calmly beforehand.
“This is only the first draft stage of a more substantial and considered Township Protection Planning process than what occurred quickly last year,” Mr. Burns said.
“At this stage, we want to know what the permanent residents think about the draft plans so we have their feedback before we bring the second draft back for more in-depth community consultation in the November peak preparation season when we make contact with absentee property owners and tourists in conjunction with the community fire preparation sessions.
“We are also proposing an off-site meeting in [south east] Melbourne at that time, with good support from South Gippsland Shire Council, in order to reach more non-resident property owners from these coastal towns.
Mr. Burns added, “The current series of sessions across Gippsland also have to fit in with a timeframe for preparation of first drafts for Township Protection Plans for the whole 52 identified locations in Victoria and there isn’t the time to hold evening or weekend meetings at every location.”
He anticipated that the final version of the Township Protection Plans for all high fire risk localities would be available on the CFA web site (www.cfa.vic.gov.au), at Council offices and at Visitor Information Centres in December as well as public places such as general stores and real estate offices in the relevant towns.
Mr. Burns, who will involved in the development of Township Protection Plans across Gippsland from Noojee to Swifts Creek, said he was pleased with the turnout of some dozen or more locals at Sandy Point and a crowd of about 25 coming through during the two hours at Walkerville.
Attendance by tourism accommodation managers was particularly welcomed as they will need to assist tourists about fire awareness and encourage early evacuation on Code Red (catastrophic) days.
The outdoor location of the session at Waratah Bay proved “a bit challenging in the bitter wind” and only some half dozen locals attended.
However Mr. Burns was very pleased at the attendance by the representatives of local emergency services and land managers so that it was clear to the public that the various agencies “were all in this together.”
These included fire management/planning officers from the Department of Sustainability and Environment (Geoff Pike, Peter Cramer, and Jill Gallucci), Foster’s Victoria Police Senior Sergeant Neil Coates, South Gippsland Shire representatives (Cr Mohya Davies, Cr Kieran Kennedy and Tourism Coordinator Christian Stefani), and the CFA’s South Gippsland Group of Fire Brigades Deputy Group Officer Neville Pulham and Operations Officer Simon Bloink.
Chatting with locals, issues brought forward included lack of options for emergency communication and information.
For example holiday house cleaners Sally Gibson and Dianne Cooper commented that many of Sandy Point’s 600 homes did not have a landline telephone and that many mobile telephone services had zero or poor reception in the town.
They also estimated that perhaps only 20% of Sandy Point households had internet connection, so would be unable to look up the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and other relevant web sites.
“The CFA are encouraging us today to spread a culture among the permanent residents of being good neighbours by knocking on doors of nearby homes when they are tenanted and asking people if they have a fire plan prepared and are they aware of the Town Protection Plan?” Ms Gibson said.
Another issue that arose was the prevalence of outdated emergency information still on display in holiday homes.
“The orange lists of what used to be designated fire refuge locations are far out of date and should be removed immediately, and should be replaced with the Town Protection Plan when it is available,” Mr. Burns emphasised.
During the informally-styled sessions, locals were also surveyed about omissions or incorrect information in the draft plans so they could be rectified in the next draft.
The DSE officers talked with participants about the range of alternative measures being tried for reducing fire risk in the land under their management due to the issue of the predominating dense coastal ti-tree only successfully cool burning in conditions that were not safe to do so given the proximity of houses.
They also assured the attendees that they would be assisting with any necessary fire fighting effort in the vicinity and coordinating with other organisations regardless of whether it was on DSE land or not.
The draft Town Protection Plans emphasise that people need to take responsibility for their own preparedness if they “live, work or travel” in fire risk areas.
The Plans provide guidance on what to do before and during the fire season, and in the event of a fire threatening the area.