Keeping Victoria's visitors - and penguins - safe

Phillip Island and San Remo brigades have conducted a joint pre-summer fire planning exercise on Summerland Peninsula at Phillip Island in conjunction with Phillip Island Nature Parks and Bass Coast Shire Council.


With more than one million tourists flocking to the park each year, the Nature Parks are an important asset to the Victorian community.

Five major attractions are spread across the 1805 hectares of Crown Land managed by the Nature Parks. Surrounding beaches, wetlands and woodlands host many international migratory bird species and mammals as well as more than 330 native plants. 

The area is best known for being home to more than 35,000 penguins and the world-famous Penguin Parade. 

The world-famous Penguin Parade. Photo courtesy Phillip Island Nature Parks

Whist the area has fortunately only experienced minor fires in the past, the conditions this season have led to an increase in scrub and tea tree growth, putting the Park at a greater risk of fire over summer.

The Exercise Summerland scenario involved a deliberately-lit fire on a Summerland Peninsula reserve in mid-February on a windy 35-degree day. 

The out-of-control fire had forced visitors and staff to take shelter in the Nobbies Centre and was threatening the Penguin Parade, with access to the Peninsula completely blocked. 

Getting the fire under control and communicating with and safely evacuating visitors and staff was the goal of the exercise.

Nine vehicles were used to fight the fire including the Park’s own slip on vehicles. 

Phillip Island brigade’s Bob Spencer said the exercise provided vital insight into managing a fire in an area with a large tourist and itinerant population.   

“We’re grateful to Park management for reaching out to us to organise such an important exercise,” Bob said.

“Working together makes us better prepared to respond if a fire was to break out and also highlights to the Summerlands community that CFA is here and ready to support them.

“We’ve learned a lot particularly around the availability of hydrants, and holes in coverage that made our radio work challenging.

“The exercise also highlighted the challenges of coordinating the safe evacuation of a large number of people out of an area with limited access and communication options.”

Ben Thomas, Ranger in Charge at Phillip Island Nature Parks said it was fantastic to work with the CFA and Bass Coast Shire Council in the delivery and evaluation of the exercise.

“These types of events are invaluable as not only do they strengthen relationships between agencies but also identify areas that we can improve on,” Ben said.

“In this instance Exercise Summerland highlighted areas for improvement in optimising communications between agencies.

“We can now work together to enhance our capabilities so we can bring potential bush or grass fires under control as quickly and safely as possible, ensuring we keep our visitors and staff safe.”

Photos courtesy: Phillip Island Nature Parks

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Author: Shaunnagh O'Loughlin