Fire risk sparks warning

Warren HatelyThe West Australian

Forecasts for a high summer bushfire risk and a slip in complacency have the region’s firefighters urging residents to prepare for an emergency.

Wallcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade made the call on social media this week, saying the six years since the 2011 bushfires tore through the region had seen residents become less active preparing for the summer high-risk season.

“It is mind-boggling to see how many properties are woefully underprepared,” brigade social media officer Sean Blocksidge said.

“A quick drive around Prevelly and Gnarabup and it seems a lot of people have completely forgotten they live in a high fire-risk area.”

Augusta-Margaret River Shire president Pam Townshend urged new residents to the area who did not have direct experience of bushfires to take warnings seriously and visit the Five-Minute Chat website run by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

“There will be many residents who believe that it won’t happen to them,” Cr Townshend said.

“This belief arises mostly from a lack of experience of fire.

“It is these residents who need to read and listen and seek advice about the possibility of fire in their area and how they need to prepare.”

Wallcliffe brigade noted high fuel loads close to homes in many Margaret River locations, underscoring findings from the Shire’s Bushfire Risk Management Plan that 25 per cent of homes were in high or extreme fire danger.

Cowaramup Volunteer Bushfire Brigade fire control officer and former Shire president Ian Earl said six years on from 2011, most of the burnt coastline had recovered to “quite heavy fuel loads”. The fuel build-up would require more firebreak clearing, potentially against the wishes of residents wanting to preserve the aesthetic of native bush.

Cr Earl asked for trust in the expertise of local brigades and that action was important. “Part of the complacency that concerns me is from those who think that every time brigades do a burn, they are able to provide up to 40 people to make sure that the appearance of the bush is preserved,” he said.

“This will cause some of the neighbours or community members to complain, but the Shire and the brigades or whoever else does the mitigation works need to be allowed to get on with the job of protecting the community.”

Postponing prescribed burns often meant adding a year’s delay, Cr Earl said.

Cr Townshend said the Shire’s proactive approach to reducing fuel loads was challenged by concerns about autumn smoke taint and late rain affecting spring burns.

Shire chief bushfire control officer David Holland said brigades were busy preparing to help combat bushfires this summer.

Mr Holland asked residents to “do their part in preventing bushfire by preparing themselves, as well as their property, for the upcoming bushfire season”.

Visit dfes.wa.gov.au/firechat for more information.

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