With our summer fire season in full swing many of our brigades are facing the additional challenges brought on by surges in population due to tourism.
Update from ACO South West Region, Rohan Luke
Summer in Victoria is a naturally busy time of year as people flock to our tourist hot spots to enjoy the many outdoor pursuits we have to offer like camping and water sports.
The number of visitors to Victoria, particularly from overseas, continues to grow year on year. Recent data released by EMV has highlighted the huge increases experienced by some of our most popular tourist hubs. Some tourist areas in Victoria have population increases of between 500 per cent and 2000 per cent in the summer season.
And it’s not isolated to the south-west coastal areas of the state. Places like Echuca, Mildura, Swan Hill, Wodonga and parts of the Mornington Peninsula also experience population increases of up to 500 per cent.
This is fantastic for local businesses and attractions, but large itinerant populations in areas of high fire risk creates many challenges for our brigades in those regions, particularly in relation to quick and easy access to a fire.
In the south-west, our Bellarine and Surf Coast catchments as well as brigades along the Great Ocean Road know this too well. The road is the key link between our coastal tourist areas and people are reliant on it.
Increased traffic on the road and an increased number of people who don’t know the area or conditions heightens the risk of congestion and road accidents. If the Great Ocean Road has to be closed, or is badly congested, there will be huge implications for tourism and the emergency services that need to use the road, either to get to the station or to a fire.
For the past three years we’ve run an additional truck out of Geelong into Lorne during the day to improve our capacity to respond to incidents over summer. We’ve also placed career firefighters in Lorne Fire Station to improve our response to any incidents as well as to support volunteers who may be running their own tourism-related businesses.
While this move has been largely successful, we need to consider all the options available, as this issue will increase with tourist numbers. In the south-west we need to review the population data for our tourist locations and continue to look at ways to support brigades to manage the increased seasonal risk.
CFA members carry out pre-summer drills to examine asset protection and preparedness for evacuations should fire break out. But one of our biggest challenges is educating visitors about local weather conditions and fire risks.
Despite our awareness and education campaigns, we’re seeing an increase in unattended camp fires. Although campers are heeding the heat messages and returning to their homes during a hot spell, unfortunately they don’t always fully extinguish camp fires.
Community safety teams and volunteers have been pounding the forest floors and engaging campers one-on-one with fire safety material, even leaving brochures and CFA-branded buckets if they’re not at their camp sites.
In busier towns our people visit accommodation providers and caravan parks to distribute fire preparedness material, and a high priority for brigades in tourist centres is to review community-wide fire plans. Variable message boards are used to communicate in languages other than English.
Summer is a challenging time for us. Even though we’re well into the fire season I encourage CFA people to continue to engage with their local communities and visitors to make sure that fire awareness is at the forefront of their minds.
We must be vigilant because many people are away from home and unfamiliar with local conditions and fire risks in particular.
Thank you for your commitment to the safety of our townships and their visitors.