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.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Don't expect any government body to make a smart decision
Especially now it's a party political scene instead of average elected citizens
They talk about road safety but have massive tree's right on the road side
How many lives have they claimed and in a fire act like a fuse
If their that important there should be a nature strip inside farmer browns fence it would be shade for stock and would save animals jumping out of nowhere
Murrimba road into wingello has many impact marks from trucks hitting tree's leaning over the road making them cross the centre lines to avoid impact
Not to mention councils brilliant road widening job for taring over 2ft of pot holes to widen the road
I don't know why they don't ask the State to fund the road upgrade as trucks have to use it because of low Barbers creek Viaduct
Years ago they had ridings and Councillors from all over the shire
They had a first hand knowledge of their area's and issues
Not like today's party political centralized and useless group