Battle-hardened fireys warn locals

Jackson Lavell-LeeThe West Australian
Naomi Dekker and Mark Box have returned home after fighting out of control fires in Queensland.
Camera IconNaomi Dekker and Mark Box have returned home after fighting out of control fires in Queensland. Credit: Jackson Lavell-Lee

Two Busselton volunteer firefighters who recently returned from battling the devastating blazes in Queensland are urging households to be prepared this summer to avoid similar catastrophes closer to home.

Naomi Dekker and Mark Box were a part of a team of 22 firefighters from the region that travelled to Brisbane and Mackay, providing comrades with much-needed respite.

“We went over to provide relief for the local crews who had been fighting fires for eight days,” Mr Box said.

“People were thanking us everywhere we went, whether it was Brisbane or Mackay.”

While the duo said the conditions were different — centred on eucalypt and rainforest — the take-home message was the same: Take bushfires seriously and have a plan in place.

The South West has long been a high fire risk area because of its wide expanses of bushland and high fuel loads.

In 2016, almost 70,000ha were burnt in Waroona and Yarloop, destroying 181 properties and claiming two lives. In 2015, about 95,000ha were destroyed in Northcliffe, and in 2011, Margaret River experienced a bushfire that claimed almost 40 properties.

While the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions met its 200,000ha target for prescribed burns in 2017-2018 and is on track for the coming year — already at 90,000ha — firefighters say there is no time for complacency.

“We can’t state enough for people to be prepared for the upcoming fire season even if they think they won’t be affected,” Ms Dekker said.

“Queensland is a prime example, areas of rainforest, where people thought it would never burn ... and it burnt.

“The State as a whole is starting to realise the need for mitigation works, whether it’s State or local government or land owners — we need fuel reduction work.”

Research by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services showed only 16 per cent of the WA community had a plan for what they would do during a bushfire. It also found that 43 per cent of West Australians did not feel bushfires were a risk to their safety.

To increase this, the State Government has committed $1 million to an advertising campaign to bring home the realities of catastrophic and severe fires, with frank messages such as the fact there will never be enough fire trucks for every home when a major fire hits.

Emergency Services Minister Francis Logan called on the WA community to step up.

“We live in a State where bushfires can strike just as easily in a forested area as they can in housing estates bordering natural vegetation, so everyone needs to think very carefully about their own personal safety,” he said.

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