Disquiet on Porongurup fire alert

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The fire on Yellanup Road.
Camera IconThe fire on Yellanup Road. Credit: Caitlin Mead

Concerns have been raised as to why a fire that destroyed a shed and almost burnt two homes in Porongurup never made it to an advice level warning.

Volunteer bushfire brigades saved two homes which came within metres of a blaze that tore through 550ha last Thursday.

The fire was reported to DFES at 4.50am on Thursday, but residents say they did not receive SMS warnings or updates on the fire’s proximity to homes and they were not told to evacuate the area.

DFES has an Emergency Alert Telephone Warning System that can send messages to landlines and mobile phones within an area where lives homes are deemed to be under direct and imminent threat. Residents do not need to register for the alerts.

DFES Superintendent Great Southern Wayne Green said there were 50 fires in the region on the Thursday and stretched local bushfire brigades did “incredibly well under challenging conditions”.

“The bushfire was managed by the Shire of Plantagenet, with it being the responsibility of the incident controller to request a bushfire warning,” he said.

“Fire is unpredictable and can spread quickly, at times making it impossible to issue a warning before a fire threatens life or property.

“If you see smoke or flames, it’s essential you act immediately for your safety — never wait for an official warning.

“You need to put your bushfire survival plan into action and leave for a safer place or stay and actively defending your home.

“We are very grateful to the Shire of Plantagenet volunteer bushfire brigades and local farmers for doing an outstanding job of combating this fire and stopping a local home from being destroyed.”

One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was frustrated with the lack of information about the fire.

“My family has a small farm on Settlement Road and had the fire taken off, there was a good possibility it would have been in the firing line,” she said.

“At the time there was no one out at the farm and I was the closest person that could have gone to save pets and livestock.

“Before going out to check on things I wanted to make sure it was safe to do so and absolutely no one could tell me.

“In the end I gave up and drove out to the farm for a few hours to keep an eye on things myself.

“I was trying to do the right thing so that we could be prepared for the worst-case scenario and not cause unnecessary risk to ourselves or fire volunteers but no one had a clue.

“Pretty big failure in communication somewhere along the line.”

Shire of Plantagenet executive manager of works and services David Lynch defended the volunteers who managed to contain the fire and save homes.

While he was away from his office last week during the events, he said he understood crews got the fire under control quite quickly.

He said the volunteers on the ground did not feel that an advice warning needed to be called.

“They didn’t feel it was warranted,” he said.

“That decision is made by the (fire control officer) on the ground who then calls it through to the Shire and then the Shire would talk to DFES.

“This is where the confusion seems to arise — it’s like an advisory, it is not a mandatory or legislative thing.

“It is always in hindsight that you work out, that you know maybe something should have been done or not done.

“As far as the FCOs out there are concerned, they got the fire under control.”

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