29 August 2019

Complacency is dangerous, fire chief warns as Canberra braces for bushfire season

| Lachlan Roberts
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ACT’s Rural Fire Service chief has warned Canberra not to be complacent and to start preparing for a larger and more dangerous bushfire season than 2018.

The 2019 Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook has forecasted an “above-normal” fire potential for much of Australia’s east coast, with officials warning the ACT to prepare for a tough bushfire season in 2019.

The report said the ACT has received less than average rainfall over the last two years, leading to a persistent and high level of drought and fuel flammability, creating risks early in the fire season.

ACT Rural Fire Service Chief Officer Joe Murphy said the prediction for the season ahead means that the fires will be “larger and harder” to put out and contain.

“This is our second year in a row now with below-average rainfall,” Chief Officer Murphy told Region Media. “Similar to last year, we have an extraordinarily dry landscape and we are very concerned about the potential for large running fires in our forest areas in the ACT.”

Chief Officer Murphy said every fire chief across the nation was concerned about one thing – complacency.

“Meeting with all the other chiefs at a briefing on Wednesday (28 August), complacency is a common theme,” he said. “My sense of what is going on is that the people of Canberra are complacent unless they have had a personal interaction with a large fire.

“After 2003, people were very very aware and mindful of their actions and they were well prepared. Time has healed those wounds and people have moved on and Canberra’s demographic has changed.”

The 2018 extended bushfire season, which sparked an out-of-control bushfire at Pierces Creek last November, shared similar characteristics with the deadly 2003 fires, which destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed four people.

Despite the potential for the 2019 season to be worse than last year, Chief Officer Murphy said Canberrans aren’t comprehending the looming danger.

“The Pierces Creek fire was significant but it was not large by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “It was a wake-up call last year for fire potential, but I would say that people are still complacent.

“They do not understand about the threat that exists out there. People don’t believe the authorities even when we say there is an issue. People want to go to the top of a hill and look at the fire themselves to make sure we are telling them the truth.

“We have to move away from that. We are here to keep the community safe.”

Despite the lack of trust, Chief Officer Murphy said it is a shared responsibility to keep the Canberra community safe.

“It starts with every resident in every household downloading the Bushfire Survival Plan from the ESA website, fill it in and agree as a family what the course of action will be,” he said. “Once you have done that, go and talk to your neighbour and find out what their plans are.

“As a community, we can build our resilience and our strength to act together and have a shared responsibility to stay safe.”

Read the full 2019 Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook here.

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