2ST morning show host, Barry Mac talks to VFFA Vice President, Brian Williams about the fire hazard reduction issues at Potato Point.
The second in a series of adverts has been published in The Land newspaper (page 32) on Thursday 11th December 2014.
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It’s been replaced by bushland the responsibility of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).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.
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.
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”.
SO, TO THE NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE SERVICE WE SAY THIS:
“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:
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mr Cheney’s report has not been properly acknowledged by the RFS or the NPWS.
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.
By Tim Barlass, November 30, 2014.
It is a remote clifftop enclave boasting seclusion and enviable views.
There is only one blot on the landscape for the 150 or so residents of Potato Point, in Eurobodalla Shire on the south coast – it has become surrounded on three sides by dense bush and, in the event of a bushfire, there is only one road out.
In 1995, part of the area was declared a national park and since then there has been little work to preserve firebreaks, say residents, who have been calling on the National Parks and Wildlife Service to do something since 2003.
A bushfire in 1985 almost reached the village but a 600-metre grass firebreak saved the day, as many scrambled to the beach. The Volunteer Fire Fighters Association says the firebreak no longer exists.
In an advertisement to be published in The Land this week, the association calls on the service to implement what local state member Andrew Constance (NSW Treasurer) and the NSW Minister for the Environment Robert Stokes have already promised the local community and give Potato Point the fire break it needs.
In May, National Parks presented three studies into environmental factors, impact on flora and fauna and an assessment of bushfire risk.
The only animal found to be endangered was the striated fieldwren – and that was the tussocky grassland it favours had been overrun by the trees the NPWS hadn’t thinned.
Residents called in bushfire expert Phil Cheney, whose report said residents of Potato Point were vulnerable to high-intensity bushfire.
He recommended significant fuel reduction, establishment of a substantial firebreak and identification of a safe place for evacuation of the elderly and infirm.
Community representatives met Mr Stokes in August and say a 10-point action plan was agreed by the minister.
Caged in (image above): Lindy Hudson with her children Emily and Tom, and deputy mayor of Eurobodalla Shire Council Rob Pollock.
Deputy mayor of Eurobodalla Rob Pollock said three months on only a watered-down program the National Parks and Wildlife Service had decided on before the meeting with the minister was being implemented.
Mr Pollock told The Sun-Herald: “I think the NPWS is more interested in preserving their bush, which didn’t exist until it was declared a national park. We used to burn it every year and it would be perfectly green grassland again after four weeks.
“If we have another fire I don’t think there’s any doubt there would be loss of houses and I would hope to God that we don’t have personal injury or loss of life.”
But a spokesman for Mr Stokes said a number of outcomes were agreed at a meeting with the community and were being implemented by NPWS and the RFS.
“Not only are the report’s findings being responded to in full, but further fire risk mitigation measures are being carried out following community consultation,” he said.
Tim Shepherd, of the NPWS, said Potato Point was one of the better-protected coastal villages with a bush interface in NSW.
Extensive work carried out provided an effective firebreak, he said.
“We also note that there are divergent views in the community and the comment that the community says there is still not an effective firebreak in place is only one viewpoint,” he said.
Click HERE to view this story on the Sydney Morning Herald web site.