Category: Bushfire Risk Management

The Fire Fight over Potato Point

The second in a series of adverts has been published in The Land newspaper (page 32) on Thursday 11th December 2014.

VFFA Potato Point Advert 2

The text reads as follows:

The Fire Fight over Potato Point

Imagine for a minute you’re a resident of Potato Point. You remember only too well the 1985 bushfire that sparked spot fires amongst houses and almost took out the village.

It was stopped (just), thanks to some very brave fire fighters and a 600 metre firebreak.

That firebreak has now gone.

It’s been replaced by bushland the responsibility of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

Now imagine a village much larger than it was in 1985. Feel the frustration as a local, who for 13 years has been asking for the restoration of a smaller (200 metre) firebreak, as well as some other preventative measures recommended by one of the world’s most eminent authorities on bushfire behaviour.

Imagine your annoyance when all that is seemingly received from the NPWS, after a very protracted “consultative process”, was some token ground cover and canopy reduction.

Well, we’ve fought enough fires to know that they are never stopped by talk … and tokenism.

So the locals asked their State Member, Andrew Constance, and the NSW Minister for the Environment, Robert Stokes to familiarise themselves with the facts and help break the nexus.

They did. A meeting was held on the 7th August at Parliament House with all parties, including a representative from NPWS.

Imagine our relief when a ten-point plan was agreed by everyone.

Now imagine our anger when the NPWS has seemingly decided to implement just 3 of those ten points and ignore the rest.

It’s time for our politicians to step-up and remind the NPWS that they are there to implement ministerial decisions.

Because, no one wants to imagine the consequences of a catastrophic bushfire anywhere near Potato Point this summer.

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Parks won’t give an inch

The VFFA is campaigning to help the Potato Point Community restore the fire break they need.

The first of a new series of adverts has been published in The Land newspaper on Thursday 4th December 2014.

VFFA Potato Point Advert

The text reads as follows:

In 1985 we had 600m, but National Parks won’t give an inch today!

On the 2nd March 1985, a major bushfire backed by a strong westerly wind raced towards the Potato Point village.

As the fire approached to less than a kilometre from the village precinct the noise became deafening, vision went down to just a few metres and residents scrambled to seek shelter for their families. Many experienced breathing difficulties whilst others fled to the beach.

Fortuitously, once the fire reached the edge of a 600 metre grassland firebreak the numerous fire fighters marshalled to the location were able to avert a potential catastrophe.

Even then, the associated ember attack started several spot fires in and around houses.

It was a close thing and certainly not something easily forgotten … unless, of course, you are from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

Today, that 600-800 metre firebreak doesn’t exist.

In fact, NPWS-controlled bushland edges right up to roadways, and the much larger Potato Point community is more vulnerable than ever before and this is despite years of consultation with NPWS.

In the words of Phil Cheney, one of the world’s most eminent authorities on the behaviour of bushfires, the “residents of Potato Point are vulnerable to high-intensity bushfire”.


“Implement what the local State Member, Andrew Constance, and the NSW Minister for the Environment, Robert Stokes, have already promised the local community and give Potato Point the fire break it needs.”

A Summary of the Potato Point Situation:

  1. The isolated community of Potato Point has been struggling for 13 years to have effective bushfire protection restored. This long campaign has been necessary because the NPWS has permitted forest to grow on the 500 metre grassland reserve that had been in place since before European settlement. (see the Before and Now images below)
  2. In February 2009 all but one of the almost one hundred land owners at Potato Point signed a petition urging the NSW Government to urgently restore the firebreak and remove the forest that had been permitted to grow up to the back fences of some properties.
  3. On 6 April 2013 the Potato Point Rural Fire Brigade delivered a detailed submission to the then responsible minister, Robyn Parker, urging early restoration of effective bushfire protection to their community.
  4. A time-consuming and expensive process was subsequently launched by the NPWS to assess some of the factors relevant to restoring effective bushfire protection to Potato Point. From the outset, the NPWS made clear that it favoured a minimalist approach. However, the overwhelming majority of the Potato Point community rejected the NPWS approach as inadequate.
  5. In desperation, some members of the Potato Point Community sought out Australia’s leading bushfire risk expert, Philip Cheney, (who led bushfire research at the CSIRO for 26 years) and commissioned him to undertake a completely independent assessment of the minimum measures required to restore effective bushfire protection to Potato Point. Mr Cheney’s recommendations were rigorous and clear.
  6. Mr Cheney’s report has not been properly acknowledged by the RFS or the NPWS.

Potato Point Aerial Photos

There is no disputing that the grassed area that can be seen in the “Before” image (above) has diminished extensively.

Click on the image for a slightly larger view

The shaded area on the “Now” image (above) are identified RFS bushfire risk management zones.

The RFS has published some Draft Community Protection Plans at the following location:

Note: You can complete the RFS feedback survey from the link (above)


Blue – Strategic Fire Advantage Zone (SFAZ)

Purpose (From the RFS) – To provide strategic areas of fire protection advantage which will reduce the speed and intensity of bush fires, and reduce the potential for spot fire development. To aid containment of wildfires to existing management boundaries.


Yellow – Asset Protection Zone (APZ)

Purpose (From the RFS) – To protect human life, property and highly valued public assets and values.

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