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Heathcote residents ready for fire season

Heathcote CFA hosted the last Fire Ready meeting before the summer bushfire and fire restriction season officially opens for the district on Monday.

BRONWYN BEYERS November 22, 2012 4:33am

CFA's Wendy Shea.


District residents planning for fire services to come to their rescue during a bushfire have until Monday to revise their plan.

Heathcote CFA hosted the last Fire Ready meeting before the summer bushfire and fire restriction season officially opens for the district on Monday and there were a few surprises in store for the small group of concerned residents who attended the meeting, at the RSL hall on Sunday.

One of the first things CFA community education officer Wendy Shea told the group was that Heathcote was not part of the North Central district for fire warnings, but rather part of the Northern Country district.

‘‘So when there’s a total fire ban, local residents need to look at the Northern Country district, not the North Central,’’ Ms Shea said.

‘‘We are almost on the border of North Central and people might want to take notice of that as well, but for fire bans and fire warnings, it’s the Northern Country that applies to Heathcote,’’ Heathcote CFA volunteer Malcolm Tubb said.

Residents were also reminded that district CFA resources could not defend every home from a bushfire and nobody should expect or plan for a CFA truck to arrive and save them.

‘‘As we saw in the Black Saturday fires, there probably aren’t going to be the resources to protect individual homes, so don’t plan on a CFA truck arriving to help you,” Ms Shea said.

Though the State Government has been working with telephone providers such as Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to develop an early warning system for bushfire threats, for the 2012-13 bushfire season only the Telstra alert network will be operating, with Optus and Vodafone due to follow for the 2013-14 season.

‘‘Do not rely on getting a warning, but rather plan on not getting one,’’ Ms Shea said.

If residents are not planning to stay and defend their home, Heathcote’s designated ‘place of last resort’ is Holy Rosary Primary School because it is in a location which is considered least likely to be engulfed by flames, but those residents who live outside the township may not be able to get to Holy Rosary and need to have a place of last resort of their own.

‘‘It could be a neighbour’s house that is better prepared for a bushfire, a swimming pool or a water body like a dam,’’ Ms Shea said.

‘‘But, not Barrack Reserve,’’ Mr Tubb said. ‘‘The reason Barrack Reserve wasn’t designated as a place of last resort is because of all the trees, especially along the creek.

‘‘People also shouldn’t expect there will be any services or resources at a place of last resort.

‘‘It’s just somewhere that has been determined as the safest place to go when there is nowhere else to go, so you need to plan ahead for what you might need to bring with you.’’

Mr Tubb and Ms Shea agreed that under a Code Red fire danger rating, the best course of action was to leave early.

‘‘On a Code Red day it is recommended that you don’t stay and defend because most houses aren’t built to withstand those sort of conditions,’’ Ms Shea said.

‘‘In Black Saturday conditions, the chances of survival are small, so get out the night before or early that morning,’’ Mr Tubb said.

‘‘Keep an eye on the weather because, in a way, we had plenty of warning before the Black Saturday fires with freaky weather for a few days before it.

‘‘The best defence you have is your eyes and your nose, so if you see smoke or flames, or smell smoke, don’t ignore it.

‘‘A lot of people lost their lives in the Black Saturday fires because they were waiting for a warning that didn’t come.’’

The CFA offers a number of services to assist district residents to plan ahead for bushfires, including a free home bushfire advisory service where a CFA fire safety officer will assess a property’s bushfire risks and advise on what to do to minimise the risk, and the Community Fire Guard program where groups of neighbours in high risk areas can plan together what they are going to do in the event of a bushfire.

‘‘This program has been running in South Heathcote for about four or five years now and it’s been very successful,’’ Mr Tubb said.

‘‘It’s a bit like Neighbourhood Watch, but for fire activity and it lets groups of people living close together know what each other plans to do during a bushfire, so we do things like set up a phone tree for back-up security.’’

For more information on CFA Fire Ready programs or bushfire planning, contact the CFA on 1800240667 or visit www.cfa.vic.gov.au

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