Where there’s smoke, there’s fear

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Aglife -

The Weekly Ad­ver­tiser presents the first col­umn from Ra­dio sta­tion 3WM Coun­try To­day pre­sen­ter Libby Price. Ms Price’s col­umn will fea­ture monthly in Aglife. t’s the smell that haunts you. The stench of smoke per­me­ates your nos­trils as a per­ma­nent re­minder of the ter­ror.

The first cat­a­strophic fire I covered as a re­porter was the Lin­ton fires in 1998.

Five fire­fight­ers died when the wind un­ex­pect­edly changed and left them trapped in their tanker. Coun­try Fire Au­thor­ity poli­cies changed to make sure that kind of event would never hap­pen again.

What many peo­ple do not know is that se­vere fires cre­ate their own ‘weather’. It be­comes al­most like a cy­clone, with the wind sud­denly chang­ing to the op­po­site di­rec­tion. That’s of­ten when tragedy strikes.

I’ve covered all ma­jor bush­fires in Vic­to­ria since Lin­ton, in­clud­ing fires in Gipp­s­land that burned for more than a month, cov­er­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of hectares

There were also the Grampians fires in 2006 where live­stock losses were hor­ren­dous.

I’ll never for­get a farmer say­ing he’d cal­cu­lated where the fire would come from and how it would be stopped on the road, so he’d only in­sured that half of the farm. It started by light­ing strike and de­stroyed most of the farm. The home­stead was saved, but the live­stock losses were hor­ren­dous. And then, Black Satur­day. Fe­bru­ary 7, 2009. That’s when the smell etched it­self into my brain. I broad­cast from Alexan­dra with the fires still burn­ing on the hori­zon and ash fall­ing like large snow flakes as we went to air.

IIt was this cat­a­strophic event and the fol­low­ing Royal Com­mis­sion that led to the CFA chang­ing its mes­sage from, ‘be pre­pared, and de­fend your home’, to ‘you should leave early’.

This mes­sage though and the fact that such cat­a­strophic events will no longer be ‘once in a life­time’ doesn’t seem to have res­onated enough.

I vis­ited a friend’s prop­erty in the north-east bor­der­ing state for­est just last week and they had a plan, but it re­lied on the pre­vail­ing winds send­ing the fire down­hill, slow­ing it, giv­ing them time to fill their gut­ters with wa­ter and seek refuge in a dam.

They clearly thought I was kid­ding when I said, if there’s a fire, there’s one way out of here and you’d bet­ter be hit­ting the road as early as you can.

The mes­sage has to be: When emer­gency ser­vices warn of ex­treme fire dan­ger, they mean it.

Some­one from western Vic­to­ria said to me the se­vere fire just 10 days ago wasn’t go­ing to af­fect him. The tem­per­a­ture was only go­ing to be in the low 30s. No big deal. But add wind and fire to that and you have yet again an­other fire catas­tro­phe in an area that has not seen any­thing like it.

Be­lieve it, it can and will hap­pen. It’s only a mat­ter of time. So think now and plan how to save you and your fam­ily.

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