Report: Canberrans travelling to South Coast during bushfires didn’t think they would be affected

Dominic Giannini 14 May 2021 32
Child covers her face from smoke on beach while fires burn in the background

Bushfires burned all the way to the NSW coastline during the Black Summer of 2019-2020. Photo: Supplied.

Canberrans travelling to the NSW South Coast during the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 did so because they wanted to continue with their annual holiday plans and escape bushfire smoke in the capital, new research has revealed.

Most of those who travelled to holiday houses on the South Coast did so while being aware of bushfire activity in the area, but did not think they would be affected, according to analysis of community responses by the Bushfire & Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC).

A common misconception from Canberrans travelling to second houses near beaches was that the bushfires would not burn all the way to the coastline. Although, a smaller number decided to travel to the coast and into fire-prone and high-risk areas specifically to assist their family or friends.

Entire communities ended up stranded for days or weeks without power, telecommunications or other resources along the South Coast during the 2019-2020 bushfire season which burnt 5.5 million hectares of NSW and destroyed 2448 homes across the state.

Thousands of residents were forced to take refuge at beaches along Batemans Bay, Moruya and Broulee on New Year’s Eve 2019 as the bushfires burned to the coastline.


READ ALSO: Changes to the bushfire zones provide a buffer to properties


But despite the communications knockout, the community increasingly expects more detailed warnings and localised information in “near real-time” during emergency situations, the BNHCRC found.

The NSW Fires Near Me app was the primary source of information, but it was not updated frequently enough and did not adequately identity where the fire was spreading, some residents said.

People trapped near or in the vicinity of the bushfires wanted to know more about where the active fire edge was and where it was spreading, while tourists said they wanted more information about roads and transport.

The app showed the entire area of the bushfire, including areas that were burnt and had no active fire.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements – also known as the Bushfire Royal Commission – handed down its report on 20 October, 2020, and made 80 recommendations, including nationally consistent emergency information such as air quality data and bushfire warning systems.


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32 Responses to Report: Canberrans travelling to South Coast during bushfires didn’t think they would be affected
Guy Noble Guy Noble 11:47 am 17 May 21

Pretty much had a cough since the fires. The week Canberra was covered in smoke affected some people and we had it better than some

Al Frahri Al Frahri 11:49 am 17 May 21

Canberrans thought they were special, and in being wrong they got in the way and helped use up precious resources when small communities were trapped.

Tony R Baldwin Tony R Baldwin 11:49 am 17 May 21

Did the APS Dargons think their EBA would protect them

Peta Jayne Peta Jayne 12:05 pm 17 May 21

Not really a surprise

Claire Genevieve Wood Claire Genevieve Wood 12:06 pm 17 May 21

Oh for god sake. We know. How obvious are the findings. Let's not start the hate between the coast and Canberra again please. Both are mutually dependant on the other, economically, socially, resources. So let's all take a chill pill, acknowledge mistakes and move forward with learned experience.

Melissa Llewellyn Melissa Llewellyn 12:07 pm 17 May 21

Andrew Samuel that makes a lot of sense... 🙄

Wade Bermingham Wade Bermingham 12:14 pm 17 May 21

They told us they learnt the lessons after the city burnt down didnt they

Jim Hatton Jim Hatton 12:17 pm 17 May 21

... and were surprised to see the extent of the devastation

Sammie Davis Sammie Davis 12:24 pm 17 May 21

Can I just point out. It wasn't all of Canberra. Some of us actually know how to do the right thing.

Lauren Montagnese Lauren Montagnese 12:24 pm 17 May 21

Literally no surprises here 😂 plenty of self entitled and inconsiderate people in this world sadly. Stupidity at its finest.

Mamy Watts Mamy Watts 12:38 pm 17 May 21

I didn't go to the coast (we were up North during our 3 weeks off, otherwise might have been), but know friends who went to their holiday house.

In all fairness the warnings in the lead up to Christmas only advised to rethink travelling to Shoalhaven NOT Eurobodalla.

Friends in Broulee, had been at the beach all morning, they were door knocked by NSW SES around 3pm the day before everything went bad, the message was if you are leaving we suggest you leave today.

Obviously, the message needed to be stronger without panicking people. Also being holiday season people start drinking early so that would be a problem for some as well.

    Garry Peadon Garry Peadon 12:58 pm 17 May 21

    Mamy Watts this is true!

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 7:04 pm 17 May 21

    Mamy Watts, I think there was plenty of evidence that the bushfire were progressing southwards. Considering fires started in Northern NSW in August 2019 and had headed through Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Port Macquarie, Taree and the Hunter. By December they had surrounded Sydney and were heading south.

    Maybe the better thing to point out is the media didn't take enough notice of the devestation north of Sydney. If the had, more people would have been alert.

Lisa Sly Lisa Sly 12:47 pm 17 May 21

Then there’s also the scenarios where we (Canberrans) actually own our house there and stayed and defended it and our neighbours houses as the fire front came through. If we hadn’t have done so, perhaps more houses would have been lost. The RFS were amazing, but could only do so much on their own. We knew the front was coming and was going to be bad but we chose to stay and help the community that we are apart of. We stayed a few days later to help how we could, then went back to Canberra, got supplies including generators and fresh water and brought them back and continued to put out smouldering logs in the bush for days later.

Andrew Samuel Andrew Samuel 12:53 pm 17 May 21

More like they didn't think full stop. No consideration was given to the impact that unnecessary visitors to the regions might have had during that time ... it was all about having their blessed holidays with no regard for anyone else

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 6:24 pm 17 May 21

    Andrew Samuel Have you ever asked the many people on the south coast whose only income comes from tourism how unnecessary those visitors were?

    Most Canberrans I talked to were just desperate to help inject some money into those regions that were badly affected by the drought and the bushfires. They gave a lot to charity too but supporting small businesses is a much better way to help.

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 7:05 pm 17 May 21

    Lin Van Oevelen I think the article is about before and during the bushfire.

    Andrew Samuel Andrew Samuel 7:06 pm 17 May 21

    Lin they were told to stay away, not only by the authorities but also those locals who you say derive their "only income from tourism" but ingnored those pleas. It was gross ignorance and selfishness to the n'th degree.

    The locals need them there, yes, but not when you have a bloody national emergency when resources were already stretched to the limit and the last thing needed was to take those resources to save someone who shouldnt have been there instead of a local who lives there.

Melissa Flis Melissa Flis 1:19 pm 17 May 21

I call BS on that. Lets see a report or a good news story on the number of my fellow Canberrans who week after week bought dry goods, baby needs and water for the slab trucks going down the coast when able during the fires (I literally had to wait half an hour most times to unload as there were so many people dropping off donations.) The FB groups that were setup to offer temporary housing for people and livestock from the Sth Coast, here in Canberra. Pretty sure 99% of Canberrans were aware they'd be just as affected if they travelled there.

    Nick Savino Nick Savino 4:10 pm 17 May 21

    Melissa Flis typical The RiotACT Stirring up trouble maybe they can try reporting facts

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 7:10 pm 17 May 21

    Melissa Flis maybe you should read the article. It is about people disregarding the warnings during the fires. Not the charity shown by Canberra's after the devastation.

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 7:11 pm 17 May 21

    Nick Savino ha,ha,ha, they are reporting on a released report.

    Nick Savino Nick Savino 8:46 pm 17 May 21

    Tom Porter yeh and has to be 100% correct right

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 9:17 pm 17 May 21

    Nick Savino can you counter the report.

Josh Ongley Josh Ongley 2:09 pm 17 May 21

All we need to do is just expand the borders from jervis bay to capital city , then the place is ours. No more problems

Robyn Raines Robyn Raines 5:37 pm 17 May 21

Claude Forner 🤔🤔

They didn’t listen to their mums either 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 6:21 pm 17 May 21

I went in January, only after the relevant authorities declared it safe to go. Still had to evacuate from our campground. Roads to Canberra closed in both directions due to bushfires. Fortunately only for a day.

Kimmy Hunter Kimmy Hunter 7:02 pm 17 May 21

Some of us went to defend our properties and help others where we could.

Tracey Davis Tracey Davis 7:57 pm 17 May 21

My mum n stepdad who live at Batemans bay couldn’t get bloody fuel or anywhere to stay when they had to evacuate because so many tourists had ignored the authorities telling them to stay away!

Emma Wright Emma Wright 10:03 am 18 May 21

What annoyed me most is those that chose to go knowing the dangers but then whinged and complained on Facebook about being stuck.

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