While there has been a community sigh of relief that the Millingandi fires were not more serious, firefighters have highlighted serious issues and lack of responsibility by some owners who left their properties in dangerous conditions, with leaves and twigs filling gutters and even with trees overhanging verandahs.
Captain of the Merimbula RFS, Grant Stevenson said: “Although there were a lot of positive, the disappointing thing was despite handing out fire plans 12 months ago, some had done a fire plan and it was patently obvious that some hadn’t because of the dangerous situation to firefighters.
He urged people on rural properties “from this week please do a fire plan and clean up around your homes”.
Captain Stevenson said: “Crews put their lives on the line to protect homes and if they are not assisted by proper property protection, then it’s pretty poor.”
He said that some homes had been prepared quite well including ‘Sea View” the home that was lost in the fire, but other owners had been ill-prepared.
“Some homes had branches, twigs and leaves in the gutters; basically the gutters were chockers. The grass was long and there was even a case of trees rubbing on the deck. Even though owners may decide to walk away, firefighters will still go in to try and protect the home. It would be nice if everyone could make some effort,” he said.
He said that the people who stayed had their homes prepared.
“Frankly I’m staggered we didn’t lose 10-12 houses. There was a fantastic effort by crews, good management and good skills but they put themselves at a fair risk.”
Group Captain, Chris Smith said that while he was quite impressed with residents, a lot weren’t sure whether they should stay or go and in the end they had 15-20 minutes to get out. Some, he said locked their gates as they left, which meant that firefighters then had to use bolt cutters to get in and try and protect their property or even to fight the fire.
Captain Stevenson said that the Merimbula RFS would be running community education days soon. “This will include training members of the community in what they need to do around their house, how to operate a fire pump and what’s best for their situation. It will also include how to develop a fire plan properly. It will take a few Saturday afternoons over a couple of months. It’s about their responsibility and assisting in the protection of those coming to fight the fire,” he said.