Excursion: Aftermath of a bushfire

Residents of Balingup were invited by the local Balingup Volunteer Bushfire Brigade to see for themselves the aftermath of a bushfire that threatened Balingup just five weeks before on Friday 13 January 2017. The excursion is part of a developing program to encourage residents to learn more about bushfires and how they can go about helping themselves to be safer from bushfire – to become firewise.

The event, held at Alistair Faulkner’s property in Delisle Street which adjoined the fire ground, attracted 17 people.

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The morning after the fire the local Balingup Volunteer Bushfire Brigade checks out the fireground in case more mopping up is needed.

Brigade member Peta Townsing noted that the excursion group was standing directly up the hill from where the fire started about 200 m away. She introduced John Bailey, the Fire Control Officer of the Brigade.

John described how the fire had started at the base of the hillside on the southern end of town as a result of a car crash. The fire had raced up the hill fuelled by weeds, especially blackberries, and dry grass. It was heading straight for Alistair’s home.

The good news was that Alistair had set up his property so it was accessible to fire trucks and had little flammable vegetation. It had few ground covers and very few shrubs. It was landscaped to be at low risk of bushfire attack.

Much of the fire fighting was based from here. As a result the Brigade managed to contain the fire that evening without it reaching nearby houses. It was a close call for Balingup.

John made several points about how to be safer if a bushfire came close, including:

  • tidying up of grounds, eg, low branches from eucalypts and other flammable trees needed to be pruned up so that they were less likely to catch fire. See the burnt branch in the photo in the adjoining paddock.
  • important if residents can stay on their property as often there will not be firefighters available. If residents do stay it is essential that it be “prepared” for them to be safe, ie be kept at low fuel levels to reduce risk of catching fire. If property is prepared then by staying the inevitable embers can be easily put out. If grounds not patrolled after a fire has gone through embers can start a fire which if left unchecked could burn down a house or a shed. This nearly happened at the recent Argyle fire with spot fires occurring after main fire went through.
  • Mulch made from wood products is a fire hazard near houses. Better to have something like a gravel.
  • He reiterated that access to a property needs to be easy for firefighters. The entry point needs to be wide and high enough so that a fire truck can easily get in and that gates should not be padlocked.
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Some of the attendees with the hill in the background showing new grass growing after the recent rain and the burnt lower branch of a eucalypt.

Alistair Faulkner told how his neighbours had told him a fire was approaching. He found that having a survival plan helped him feel less stressed. However, he did decide to evacuate but was confident because of his tidying up and the firefighters’ presence.

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Several of the participants with the fireground in the background.

In the past week he had noticed that dry eucalyptus leaves were building up so to keep the fuel levels down he took five trailer-loads of leaves to the green waste disposal site.

Participants asked questions and had concerns about a number of issues including the state of verges and the need for their clearing up, about whether they would leave or stay and the high costs of taking overgrown trees out, such as weedy wattles and eastern states gums including the Tasmanian Blue Gum.

The excursion concluded with a drink at the Fruit Winery in the Packing Shed on the main street in time for the Balingup Markets.

For more information about the Balingup program of bushfire mitigation and a safer property contact me, Peta Townsing.