16 February, 2020

In Case of Fire

Not to be put too far away in the Bushfire Season
Now that we have had such lovely rain and all the fires near us are out, it is timely to remember we are still in the Bushfire Season until end of March. So with all the practical experience we have had this year, we have created our special "In Case Of Fire" box which we will put somewhere safe in case of need.
We have learned that these items are very important if we intend to stay and defend, but also the fire may come without much warning.
In addition to this box we will also need:

  • a non flammable hat or helmet
  • Woollen or Cotton clothing covering all areas of skin
  • Good non-flammable/non-melting closed shoes or boots
  • Batteries for torches and lights
  • First Aid kit that is appropriately stocked

What's in the box?

  • Smoke Masks - P2 rated or higher. These are disposable and you should have more than one per person. Enclose them in a plastic bag to make sure they remain fresh and ready for use.
  • Safety Goggles - enclosed so that smoke won't get in your eyes. When the fires are nearby, the smoke is very thick and your eyes are instantly irritated. Keep some eye drops in your medical/first aid cabinet.
  • High Visibility Vests - these are important so others can see you better. This is because you should not fight fires alone!
  • Gloves - leather or otherwise flame proof. Embers and branches will be hot and you want to protect yourself.
  • Glow Sticks - We used these to place around the ends of hoses and other important fire fighting gear. When the flames are close and embers are thick it is almost like daylight at times, but when it is dark and you need to find the hose or bucket, glow sticks work well. Don't use red or orange as these are confusing!
  • Lights - Headlights were very useful so wherever you looked you had better light. A good torch also helped for longer ranges.

Bushfire Survival Plan

The other really important thing to have is a Fire Plan. Discuss your plan with the whole household and review it together. We did this a number of times before the fire and it meant when the call was made to retreat, we all knew where to go and what to do. In times of danger and uncertainty, a well understood plan can make all the difference between safety and tragedy.

11 February, 2020

Council Encourages Fiery Fingers of Death

As we review the damage caused by the fires that swept into Wingello on Saturday 4th January, we can see the impact of decisions taken over the preceding years.
The fiery fingers of death raged along the
Council's unmaintained roadsides

The RFS Information Is Excellent

The Rural Fire Service has provided a wealth of information to the community including:

  • Annual Open Days - everyone is encouraged to pop into the fire shed for a free BBQ, jumping castle for the children and plenty of information about how fire can affect the village. Our local Firies are on hand to provide any assistance and information.
  • Annual Information Day in the Wingello Village Hall. There is a presentation showing the history of fires and the specific impact fire has had on the village, especially the 1965 and 1998 fires. There are plenty of maps and photos letting everyone know how fire has hit Wingello hard in the past.
  • Fire Plan kits - these are available from the fire station and at the Wingello Village Store. It contains lots of essential information about preparing your home and property, appropriate protective gear and equipment and plenty of information so everyone in Wingello can make an informed plan about how they will act when a fire approaches and hits.

This has been of immense help and the availability of the Wingello Rural Fire Brigade when anyone had a question has been superb. There is really no excuse for a Wingello resident to not know what to do in case of fire.
This was a prelude on New Year's Eve

Local Preparedness was OK

You can see the effectiveness by the number of houses that were prepared in accordance with the RFS information bulletins. This ramped up after the preview we had on New Year's eve when the town filled with heavy smoke and the threat of fire was just on the other side of the Shoalhaven Gorge.
When the threat warning for the 4th January arrived, a much greater proportion of the village activated their fire plan and relocated for the night. Those left were better prepared to face the expected ember attack with appropriate masks, goggles and protective gear.
We did not know that the fire had a new attack plan.
These posts describe some glimpses of the defence of Wingello that night:
Our Slice of the Fight for Wingello
Not on my Watch!
Dogged Defence
The village's defences could have been better in a number of instances, but for all we could do we had one limiting factor.

Wingecarribee Shire Council is Culpably Negligent

At this point we can see what we as a village did on the night and beforehand.
However, as we look at the drone footage and get a better look at what the fire actually did on the night, we can see the impact of many decisions that were out of our control.
The Wingecarribee Shire Council knows we are in a high fire risk Shire. We know because they put lots of conditions and charges on anyone building here.
Do you have a plan?
Yet, while they are very quick to put restrictions and conditions on residents, they have done very little on their side to prepare. When the fires struck, they had NO plan as to what they should do once fires struck. The Shire has had fires many times over the years and we are firmly encouraged to have a fire plan, yet the council had NONE.
To use an analogy, consider what a responsible person does that needs a car for work. You ensure that you maintain the car, you put aside an emergency fund in case something serious happens to the car and you have a plan in case the car breaks down. That is what a responsible person does.
Yet, our council, whilst knowing we are in a high fire risk area and we have had bushfires hit in the past had NO plan, NO reserves and NO idea what to do.
Our first exposure to the Council's poor response was when we started receiving lots of donations of food and clothing for those in the village that had lost so much. The Council made us fight to be able to use the hall. Once we gained access to the hall, we were able to distribute the donations - and even more importantly - use the opportunity to connect with fellow villagers and discuss each other's experiences on the night and subsequent days. The added stress of fighting for access did not help.
Then as we looked at the drone footage of the village taken four weeks after the fire (Wingello Fire - 4 Weeks On) we realised the second part of the problem.
The Council's policies had made the village extremely vulnerable to fire, despite our best efforts at preparation. When you look at the overhead footage, you can see the fire rushing into the village like fingers of fiery death straight into the heart of the village. The fire embraced the unmaintained roadside verge greedily spreading the fire onwards and then attacked the neighbouring homes.
In the last few years the council has put in specific policies that contribute to their culpable negligence and effectively attempted to make Wingello a fiery death trap.
Is this really an accidental policy decision?

  1. In the past, Wingello residents cleaned up the roadside verges, using the continual dropped branches and so on for firewood for our wood heaters. This is now forbidden unless a permit is given. Yet the Council will not do the required maintenance themselves. The amount of fuel that is in front of each resident's home is fearful.
  2. Back yard burning of excess plant matter has been a traditional method of keeping our properties clean. This was banned unless the property was over 1 acre, which meant the majority of the village was not allowed to do back yard burns. The fortnightly green bins are insufficient for the plant matter that is generated by the amount of trees in the village. Otherwise we are recommended to take the waste to the recycling centre - for a fee - 50 km away.
  3. Fighting to clear away trees on our property is expensive. $100 for the first tree and $50 for each additional tree just for the application. Then the council arborist visits and while taking no personal or corporate responsibility for the impact if a tree falls or causes damage, dictates whether the tree can be removed, or trimmed or must stay. If you wish to complain, land owners must take the council to court. Although this council always complains about lack of money, there always seems to be enough money for legal actions.

This is our exit route.
We are extremely fortunate to have such effective local Rural Fire Brigades in Wingello and Penrose. When trees fall, the brigades are very quick to clean up the trees so access can be maintained. Unfortunately, the council insists fallen branches be placed in a fuel pile next to the road. They have banned us from using the downed trees and branches yet will not step in and do the necessary maintenance themselves.
All this information has been provided to the Wingecarribee Shire Council councillors and General Manager weeks ago. Other than talk, we are still in the same situation, but with the added burden of over 250 trees that are fire damaged inside the village.
But, they tell us, It's OK. The Council is on it.

02 February, 2020

Wingello Fire - 4 weeks on

That's a lot of burnt trees

You can see how the fire raced into Wingello
In order to reflect on Wingello four weeks after the fire raced through on 4 January, I was able to get some drone footage of the village from a good friend. This was taken on Wednesday 29th January and nothing has changed since then. I have loaded the higher quality photos here so you can click them to see the larger versions.
Looking at the extent of burned trees and their pincer like thrusts in to the village I am more convinced than ever that naming this "The Miracle of Wingello" is pretty accurate.
The people of Wingello are doing their best to recover from the night of fire. Those who have lost houses are understandably keeping to themselves as they work through all their options and plans for the coming months and years. Many in the village have been doing their best to give them all the help they can.
Those who lost almost everything except for their houses are also finding things difficult.
A lot of assistance is either means tested or depends on you losing the house. Others have quite a few hoops or conditions.
Thankfully, St Vincent De Paul Society and The Lions Club have been very helpful with great person to person financial assistance, and other local people based charities are also stepping in to help with practical support.
In the coming months, especially once the rains return, we have offers of help from many people to provide the labour we need to rebuild and replant and revitalise Wingello.
Have a good look at these photos to see what a close call we had on 4 January.

01 February, 2020

Wingello Village News - February 2020

The Wingello Village News is here for February 2020.
See this month's  Wingello Village News.
This is the 132nd monthly newsletter.

What's happening this month:
  • The bushfires hit Wingello hard from the South - a historically new direction. We survived and will rebuild.
  • The Fire Brigade have been VERY busy and the fire season isn't over yet.
  • A Wingello Community Meeting on Saturday 22 February
We have also published lots of articles this month regarding the fires:
A preview of the risk we faced from 2 January
A summary of our slice of the fight for Wingello
Our Firies defence of Wingello - Not on my watch!
Our neighbours dramatic defence of homes
Wingello's own Fire Relief Fund
Remembering that the fire has not just a physical toll
A tribute to the incredible community spirit of Wingello