Where there’s smoke, there’s fear
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.