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Bush fire season: Late summer can still invite problems

Doug Palmer heaves a sigh of relief but it’s not necessarily over yet

Weather. Out of the frying pan and into the …

cool, cool swimming pool with a nice shower at the end.

In contrast to January, February has been quite benign. I’m usually a little nervous when I say things like this, as it’s not quite the end of the month when I write and I have a mental headline of “Freak conditions leave thousands homeless” running through my head, with this happy little article just below it.

I think I can risk it, though.

Despite such cheery thoughts, the fire season will still run at least to the end of March. Late-season bushfires are a bit of a feature of this area.

There’s still plenty of fuel for the burning and there’s still room for high pressure systems to squat over central Australia and give us a run of hot and windy days. If you haven’t yet, there’s still time, and plenty of reason, to do some planning.

New era of catastrophe

what’s the warning mean

January was the first real try of the new warning system for a ‘catastrophic’ day. I got plenty of warnings, by SMS, phone and SMS again. I haven’t heard of anyone not getting a warning. I imagine that the next time, people will have a clearer understanding of what the messages mean.

The catastrophic fere warnings just mean that the next day has that danger rating. It does not (necessarily) mean that there is a bushfire near you. It does mean, however, that you need to be clear in your own mind about what you intend to do, particularly if you live in an area which could be impacted by a bushfire.

The simplest choice is to be somewhere else. Lots of paving, short green grass, that sort of thing. Towns. Cities. That’s what the message means when it says “not being in a bush fire prone area”.

Being from Melbourne, my go-to reaction on boiling hot days is to visit something like a nice, air conditioned art gallery and watch the sweat turn to icicles on my arms.

Stay not go means you take action

If you do intend to stay, then you absolutely, positively must have a plan for what you intend to do. Not just a vague outline of something you might consider doing when you see how things are going, but a clear, worked-out understanding of when you need to take decisions and what you’re going to do.

If you intend to protect your property, make sure that you have prepared it properly before time and you have sufficient resources and communication. Remember that, particularly on a catastrophic day, we’ll do our best but the RFS may not be able to aid you.

If you have plans to leave, make sure that you’ve got a clear idea of when you need to do so and make plans for several escape routes so that you’re not stuck like some Bond villain, thinking “But that’s impossible!”

Have a list of what you need to take, so you don’t forget things like pets – or people. Make sure that you have a plan for meeting up later and accounting for everybody.

It’s worth remembering that phones and the internet may not be available just when you need them. Mobile phone systems can quite easily get overloaded if everybody wants to use them at the same time.

Landlines can get burnt, knocked over, tangled in falling trees and otherwise incommoded. So make sure you have some alternate way of finding people and information. A battery-powered portable radio tuned to the ABC (666 MHz AM) will, if all else fails, keep you informed about what’s going on.

Naturally, I hope that all of this won’t be necessary. But I do like to think that everybody is looking forward to a well-prepared end to the fire season.

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