Bushfire season starts early with Gippsland residents urged to prepare after deadly ‘practice run’





Posted

December 04, 2019 06:55:00

Bushfires have already threatened properties and burnt thousands of hectares in Victoria’s East Gippsland, and authorities are warning there could be more to come.

Key points:

  • Three bushfires have threatened properties in Gippsland over the past two weeks
  • Residents and fire authorities are worried the worst is yet to come
  • Authorities urge people to consider this a practice run and prepare their bushfire survival plans

One life has also been claimed by the fires when a 69-year-old contractor for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) died as the vehicle he was driving rolled on an embankment near Gelantipy.

Tom Morgan lives about 7 kilometres south of Ensay on a property just off Great Alpine Road, and he said he was worried about what could be ahead for his community.

“We’ve got a couple of months up our sleeve now,” he said.

“Hopefully this won’t do too much harm and it will give us a bit of a buffer. If we get another bushfire, that’s the only consolation of it all.

“Once it’s burned it won’t burn twice — as long as you don’t get burnt the first time.”

Long season ahead

There have been six fires of significance over the past two weeks in East Gippsland.

Authorities were most concerned about fires near Gelantipy, Bruthen, and Ensay which, at their peak, reached emergency level.

The fires were caused by dry lightning that ignited dozens of fires along the Great Dividing Range.

Incident controller Andy Gillham said the Country Fire Authority and DELWP were not caught off-guard by the fires.

“With all the modelling that has been done by the fire researchers, they said it would be an above-average season for East Gippsland,” he said.

“Because the landscape is so dry we had lightning and fires. We did have an early start to the season, but we weren’t caught off-guard.

“We were expecting it, we were just hoping it didn’t happen.”

Mr Gillham said communities in East Gippsland should treat the recent fires as a practice run for the season.

“Yeah it’s a cruel use of phrase ‘practice run’, isn’t it?” he said.

“The focus is definitely going to be on East Gippsland and up the east coast of Australia.

“What firefighters are saying is, we are expecting an average season across most of Victoria, so that’s the areas north and west of Melbourne.

“But for East Gippsland the message is very clear and concise and loud: above average, it’s going to be a very busy, active, long fire season.”

Sue Gray lives with her husband at Reedy Flat, on a 404-hectare property east of Ensay.

Their property was not damaged by the nearby fire, but Ms Gray said she could see the flames from her house.

“It was just black smoke,” she said.

“We could hear it roaring from here too.”

Ms Gray said the heat from the fire caused her livestock to run into a nearby creek for shelter. A small amount of recent rain meant the creek was running again, but she said that would not last long.

She said if another fire came close, they may not have enough water to fight it.

“We hope we’ve got water here to keep everything damp, but it all depends on the creek,” she said.

“So it’s going to be hard. We’d probably have to leave if [another fire] got too close.”

A way of life

The fire near Ensay was at its most ferocious on the night of Monday, November 25.

Kerry Geehman lives at Ensay North, where she farms and works at the local pub.

“You just knew there was a fire there,” she said.

“A lot of people get a bit agitated, but we were just ‘let’s see what happens’. So I suppose we were calm, because it’s not good getting upset, because then you’re useless if something does happen.”

Ms Geehman said now that these fires had occurred, it was likely there would be more.

“Living in the bush, this is what’s going to happen. You just sort of go with the flow — that’s me.”

Working at the local pub, Ms Geehman had an insight into how the community was coping.

“I think all are probably a bit the same as me. We have an older community, but that’s actually a good thing because they’ve been through this before. So a lot of people are really fire-savvy. They’ll know when to stay or go.

“I think it’s just a wait and see thing, we’ll wait and see what happens.”

Incident controller Andy Gillham said if people did not already have a bushfire survival plan, now was the time to make one.

“This was, in a way, a bit of test run for your fire plan,” he said.

“Remember this is not a normal season — this is an unusually active and dry season.”

Topics:

disasters-and-accidents,

fires,

bushfire,

ensay-3895,

sale-3850,

gelantipy-3885,

bruthen-3885



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