PREPARE FOR THE WORST: Fire ‘masterplan’ to dodge disaster
FIRE management is at the forefront of council concerns after an unprecedented fire season claimed the lives of 28 people and thousands of homes nationwide.
$1M of federal bushfire recovery funding was allocated to the Southern Downs Regional Council this week, prompting an intense discussion on how to best protect the community from devastation.
Councillor Vic Pennisi suggested the money be spent on a fire break “master plan”, the likes of which the region has never seen.
Fire breaks are sections of land that have been cleared of vegetation or combustible material to slow down the movement of bushfire and allow firefighters to safely move around the fireground.
These breaks go from state-owned to privately-owned land without any consistent standard of maintenance or communication regarding their condition.
“There’s no owner of all of that information,” Councillor Cameron Gow said.
“When we come off Parks into private land, we don’t know where one (break) finishes and another one starts.
“It sounds weird, but it’s true.”
According to Wildash Rural Fire Brigade first officer Paul Maher, that knowledge could mean the difference between life or death for a local volunteer.
“There was a time along the border fence when we came along a big old tree, fallen across the break, and we were stuck there for half an hour trying to move it,” he said.
Crews always carry a chainsaw as fire trails, particularly through national parks, can often pose logistic problems.
“Half an hour is a long time when you’re trying to get ahead of a fire, or trying to stay out of its path,” Mr Maher said.
“If it was coming up behind us and we needed to escape, we couldn’t have.”
Other times the track may be completely destroyed by erosion, leaving impassable holes and preventing firefighters from accessing the front.
In a worst-case scenario, unchecked regrowth can become its own fire hazard, particularly given the record-breaking dry conditions.
“A lot of the breaks used to be part of logging country, used to cart logs in and out of the bush, but now they’re overgrown and not trafficable at all,” he said.
“It can be a real hazard.”
In addition to the fire breaks, there are certain communities that face complete isolation should fire cut them off from their one access point.
“We’re very, very lucky Happy Valley didn’t sustain more damage or loss of life in September because there’s only one way in, and one way out, for those residents,” Cr Pennnisi said.
“There are hot spots that need better escape routes otherwise it’s a potential disaster.”
The creation of a fire break master plan was submitted to the federal government for approval.
Councillors also voted to submit for funding for a bushfire regional readiness plan, to be given to community organisations.