Plan and leave early, residents told at Merimbula RFS meeting

RFS officers and volunteers who attended the meeting.
RFS officers and volunteers who attended the meeting.

Around 200 people packed into the auditorium at Club Sapphire on Wednesday evening, November 27, to hear from Rural Fire Service (RFS) officers and volunteers about their concerns for the summer season which is predicted to be hotter and drier than usual.

The emphasis was very much on preparation, planning and ensuring that everyone stayed informed about fire situations.

Residents were urged to look carefully at their properties and clear around the home working outwards. Community liaison officer Marty Webster warned that the vast majority of properties that were lost at Tathra were lost to ember attack.

"For a lot of Merimbula that's the risk you face," he told the audience.

"Radiant heat causes damage to a property very quickly. I still get a bit of a shiver up my spine when I think about Tathra," Mr Webster said.

KEY POINTS

  • Hotter and drier summer predicted by BoM
  • Have a plan, plan for all eventualities, enact it early, don't wait to see flames before thinking of leaving
  • Stay informed, use the Fires Near Me app and have a battery operated radio to receive ABC emergency warnings
  • Clear around your property working outwards 1m, 5m and then out 15m
  • Most properties at Tathra lost to ember impact, spotting distance can be 16km
  • If you are leaving don't leave windows open
  • For every 10 degrees a fire travels up a slope, it can double in speed and as it speeds up it becomes more intense
  • Big fires can create their own weather
  • Safer Places are places of absolute last resort - do not chose to go there unless you have to. Shopping areas and air-conditioned clubs are better options; decide to go early.

Several people raised issues relating to adjacent properties that were overgrown and had owners outside of the area with Mr Webster suggesting they talk with the RFS. However options may be limited because of the ban on hazard reduction burns at this stage.

There was emphasis on families developing their plan together, taking into account children might be at school and one or both parents at work. Mr Webster said that parents should talk to the school regarding its emergency management plan.

"If your plan is to leave in the event of a bushfire, then leave early," Merimbula RFS president Chris Nicholls said.

"If the fire rating is severe you need to enact your fire plan, in extreme conditions, those staying and defending are really getting ready and the leaving people are leaving. Under catastrophic conditions even the most modern home is indefensible. You can get flames of 30-50m height and heat that will melt glass (if a fire starts)," Mr Nicholls said.

Mr Webster said that with fires in northern Eurobodalla and in Victoria "we are doing what we can to cut them off before they become our problem".

But there was concern from some community members in Mirador about their possible escape routes particularly in relation to the gated link road between Camilla Court and Berrambool.

Mr Webster admitted that it was a vexed issue that had been kicking around for a while. He said that under extreme and catastrophic conditions the gate would be unlocked but he was concerned that residents might be waiting too long before deciding to leave.

"I still recommend that you have a trigger point for when you must leave," he said.

Residents asked if there were any representatives from council in the room and were told that council was invited and knew the meeting was taking place but no representatives had attended.

Mr Webster said that the RFS had met only the day previous and decided to have the link 2WD accessible but he stressed that the fire services needed it for emergency access into Mirador.

RFS members with Neville Dalton of Merimbula Rotary with a cheque for $2000.

RFS members with Neville Dalton of Merimbula Rotary with a cheque for $2000.

He was accused by a member of the audience of not caring for the the people of Mirador but he said the RFS did care about them.

"We want people to leave early," he said.

One of the managers from Acacia Ponds said she had 140 residents with one road out.

"It scares the hell out of me. Do we take them to the lake," she asked.

Again Mr Webster urged everyone to stay ahead of the information through the Fires Near Me app and get the more vulnerable people out sooner.

Another resident asked about gas bottles and was told that the bottles are designed to withstand quite a lot of heat and that they are better left standing upright.

At the end of the evening the Rotary Club of Merimbula presented a cheque to RFS members for $2000 for NSW RFS.

The money came from a donations into the Rotary wishing well on just one Merimbula market after it was announced the money would go to the RFS.

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