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Fire season is far from over

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Victorians are still at risk of fast-running scrub and grass fires, CFA has warned as it issued a reminder that February is a month that has seen some of the state’s worst fires over the years.

Fire season is far from over

While conditions have recently eased in some parts of the state, parts of Victoria are still very dry and above-average temperatures are expected for Victoria throughout February and into March.

CFA Chief Officer and CEO Steve Warrington said now was a good time to revisit bushfire safety plans – especially if household circumstances have changed with the return of family members to work and school.

“Our message to the community is that there is still the risk of fast-running scrub and grass fires and we are not out of the danger zone just yet. This is still fire season and you still need to be prepared,” he said.

Despite recent rains, significant fires remain active in the state with firefighters continuing to work on bringing them under control, and any new fires could still be problematic many parts of Victoria.

As relief and recovery efforts are ongoing in communities throughout East Gippsland and North East Victoria, a serious threat remains across the state.

“Victorians are reminded that some of the most devastating fires in our state have occurred throughout the month of February, including the St Patrick's Day fires in 2018, Black Saturday in 2009, the North East fires in 2003, and Ash Wednesday in 1983. Going further back, the Gippsland Fires in 1965, Red Tuesday in 1898, and Black Thursday in 1851 all took place during February,” CO/CEO Warrington said.

“One of last bushfire season’s highest-impact fires, the Bunyip State Park fire destroyed 29 homes and many more outbuildings. That fire didn’t start until 1 March and burned more than 15,000 hectares before it was contained two weeks later.”

Mr Warrington said weather modelling indicates there is a strong chance that Victoria will exceed the average temperature, particularly in the north of the state, which could also continue into March.

“That means as we move through the next few weeks with those hotter conditions, there’s potential for grass fires particularly to have considerable impact on spike days.”

Following last year’s bushfire season, CFA’s annual Bushfire Community Survey showed that 52 per cent of respondents considered the risk moderate, minor or non-existent.

Worryingly, a third said they would only leave when a fire threatens their town or suburb rather than the morning of or night before a day of extreme fire danger.

“We’ve been really pleased this season that people have heeded our warnings and left their homes and communities when we have told them to do so,” CO/CEO Warrington said.

“We want people to continue to do that, but also to take responsibility for their own safety as we won’t always be able to give them that early opportunity to evacuate, especially if we’re talking about a new and fast-running fire.

“It’s important to get your head around what the real risk is to you and your friends and family, how to minimise it and what to do when there is a bushfire emergency.

“Members of the community who live and travel to high-risk bushfire areas along with visitors to Victoria need to stay alert and inform themselves of how they will keep safe in a fire.

“We ask that they understand the risk to them, how the warnings system works and what they need to do on high-risk bushfire days in the areas they live and work in and travel to,” he said.

Visit cfa.vic.gov.au for more information about bushfire planning and preparation, and about leaving early.

Prepare your property; it can minimise property damage even if you leave early

  • Move furniture, woodpiles and mulch away from windows, decks and eaves
  • Prune tree branches so they are not overhanging the roof or touching walls
  • Keep grass shorter than 10cm. Regularly remove leaves and twigs
  • Don’t have plants higher than 10cm in front of windows or glass doors
  • Before you leave, make sure you remove all flammable items from around your home. Houses have been lost from things as simple as embers landing on a doormat
  • Check that your home and contents insurance is current and includes a level of cover in line with current building standards and regulations.

Have a plan, make sure your family knows it, and stick to it

  • Check the fire risk where you live.
  • Download the VicEmergency app now so you know how it works well before you need to use it. You can set up tailored watch zones for your home and other locations.
  • Decide which Fire Danger Rating is your trigger to leave; check the ratings daily.
  • Decide where you will go and what you’ll do with your pets.
  • Plan for all scenarios – what will you do if your car won’t start, roads are blocked, the wind changes direction, someone is hurt or people aren’t where you expect them to be?
  • When planning with kids, make sure you know your local school policy for fire risk days. Some schools close on Code Red days, it’s important to know so you can plan ahead.
  • Create an emergency kit so you are ready to leave quickly and calmly.
  • Know how you will monitor for warnings and do this regularly on hot, windy days.

Always use more than one source to monitor warnings; ABC local radio, Sky News TV, the VicEmergency App, emergency.vic.gov.au and VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226. Get batteries for your radio, keep laptops and mobiles charged and consider getting power banks to extend their “life” in case of emergency. Defending your home requires at least two fit adults, at least 10,000 litres of water, protective clothing, and appropriate firefighting hoses and pumps. Most homes in high risk bushfire areas are not defendable on Code Red days. Defending your home is very risky – you could lose your life or be seriously injured.