Thursday 29 May 2014


Hansard of the Legislative Council






Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, hot northerly winds and the fearsome smell of an approaching bushfire and black hot cinders in the air are far from our minds at this time of the year. Now is the time for many landowners to start thinking about our next bushfire season. We got off pretty unscathed during the last summer, unlike the previous summer. The fuel load keeps building up and the coming bushfire season could be very severe.


We do not know what temperatures or northerly winds are ahead of us but we know that there has been unprecedented growth during last year's spring and early summer and it could be similar next spring. Many rural properties and homes are surrounded with potential tinder. We have also heard of the predictions of a coming El Nino event, with its associated drop in rainfall.


Our emergency services, especially the Tasmania Fire Service, are better equipped and informed than ever before to combat bushfires and the level of awareness among rural residents has never been higher. This statement is backed up by an ongoing study in New South Wales. A team of academics led by the Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Wollongong, Nicholas Gill, interviewed many people living near bushland in the Blue Mountains ravaged by bushfires last October. I quote from Professor Gill's article in The Conversation online:

Last October's fires in New South Wales prompted a resurgence of debate about how to safeguard lives and homes. On one side are those who call for landscape‑scale fuel‑reduction burns, with government‑mandated minimum areas to be burnt each year.

On the other side are those who argue that resources are best devoted to preparing houses and their owners. This raises the question of how residents living near bushland will react to hazard-reduction strategies such as removing or thinning the trees they have chosen to live among.


[We] have already found evidence ... that the most effective risk reduction is undertaken in and around properties.

[This] suggests that landscape-scale burning is less cost‑effective in reducing risk to property than treatment that is focused within just 1‑2 km of homes. In turn, this raises the question of whether residents are ready for the responsibility they must bear.


However, the Tasmania Fire Service takes the view that strategic fuel‑reduction burning on a landscape scale is warranted to reduce the bushfire threat to identified at‑risk communities. It says these communities are supported and educated to reduce their individual property risks. These two approaches are highly complementary and form the basis of the current TFS community fire‑protection planning project.


Like our emergency services, landholders have learnt from history. They keep the grass down, especially to the north of their homes. They manage trees and vegetation near homes and many have effective fire plans. In this, in the recent past, we have been greatly helped by the Tasmania Fire Service's website, which has downloadable material, including advice to householders, evacuation procedures, a stay‑put check list, and how to put together an emergency kit. This information is well presented. It is up to date and includes advice on how to understand warnings on ABC local radio, which in recent years has been a boon to that communication of what is actually happening when fires occur.


Home owners in bushfire-prone areas are now much more aware of how to prepare their buildings. Water tank retailers report to me that there is increasing interest in tanks for fire pumps. One pump and irrigation seller in Launceston has designed many rooftop sprinkler systems for customers. These usually involve a water source close to the home. A 15,000‑litre tank costing about $2,000 is the usual recommendation because that can supply a 5‑horsepower fire pump for about two‑and‑a‑half hours. That is plenty of time for the fire front and its aftermath to pass. Sprinklers along a home's roof ridge can envelop the house and its immediate surroundings in a cloud of spray for hours. I am not suggesting that protection systems like these necessarily obviate the need to evacuate in catastrophic circumstances, but I am stressing that properly prepared home owners are the most cost‑effective way of saving homes in a bushfire.

The best way to survive a bushfire is to leave the endangered area. I quote the Victorian Fire Services Commissioner, Craig Lapsley in a story in the Melbourne Age:

There is one truth in a bushfire: if you are not in its path when it arrives, you will not be killed by it. Every other course of action during a bushfire carries a greater or lesser degree of risk. ...... on Black Saturday, everyone who left early survived.


Ultimately individuals are responsible for their own decisions about how to respond to bushfire risk. I believe the message is getting through with the help of the Tasmania Fire Service. Tasmanians are better prepared than ever, but there is never any room for complacency. The approaching bushfire season may be far from our minds now, but it should not be.