Our “terrifying” fire risk and why we need prescribed burns
A Denmark volunteer firefighter who just returned from fighting the catastrophic wildfires in the Eastern States says the trip opened his eyes to the “terrifying” risk to the Great Southern.
Bryce Edwards, a bushfire control officer with the Shire of Denmark, spent last week battling a huge blaze in rural NSW which left one man seriously injured.
After returning home on Monday, he said people in Albany and Denmark who complained about prescribed burns needed to realise the region had “bloody scary” fuel loads.
“They were savage fires over there but they don’t have the under-storey we have,” he said
Mr Edwards, along with fellow Denmark volunteer firefighters Kellie McLeod and Marcus Owen, were among 25 WA firefighters deployed to Yarrowitch west of Port Macquarie.
He said the trip served as a reminder of how an area which was normally lush could change so drastically.
“The bush was incredibly dry, there were dead trees everywhere,” he said.
“You could imagine how picturesque it used to look, but now it was almost a depressing landscape. It was just really sad to see it in such a state.”
The team was tasked with protecting assets in the Oxley Wild River National Park area, where one man had been left with severe burns.
“You’d assume assets were just houses and that sort of stuff but for these people it is also the feeds and the livestock,” he said.
“On some of these farms the genetics go back several generations, and you can always rebuild a house but if they lose those genetics, you’ll never be able to get them back.”
They worked in difficult, often steep terrain.
“There was one gorge I went down because I had to light it from the bottom to put a back burn in — and I had to come out on all fours,” Mr Edwards said.
“I couldn’t get traction by foot and the other side was even steeper. Somehow the locals were actually able to fence those areas. I don’t know how they did it.”
A 50-year-old man was flown out of Yarrowitch on November 7 with severe burns to his legs and hand.
Mr Edwards said the impact of the fires was visibly devastating on the affected communities.
“Some of the kids there hadn’t been to school in many, many weeks,” he said.
“You could really see the stress on people’s faces but everyone was extremely grateful we were there helping out.”
A recent recipient of a volunteer employer recognition award, he said a strong urge to help out had driven him to become a volunteer firefighter and and sign up for the NSW operation.
“If it wasn’t so far away we’d probably be back there tomorrow to help them,” he said.
“It has definitely made us all better firefighters.
“All I can say from the experience is I strongly hope we never see a season like that here.”
Mr Edwards said the NSW experience had reinforced the “terrifying” risks bushfires posed to his community at home.
He was on duty two weeks ago at a prescribed burn 10km out of Denmark which attracted plenty of online criticism from locals because it was carried out during warm and windy conditions.
“That was a big, big burn and it was planned to the nth degree... they did it incredibly well,” he said.
“If that was a wildfire on a bad day — geez, Denmark would be in trouble.”
Although it would be great to do more prescribed burns in winter, he said they did not achieve the same results.
“Individuals need to do their bit and get rid of that fuel loading they’ve got, too,” he said.
“I look at the countryside we’ve got around Albany, Denmark and out to Walpole. It could very easily be so similar to what they have now. It’s uncanny.”
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