Fighting fire with a blunt warning: it’s deadly

Fire Services commissioner Craig Lapsley has a strong message to those in high fire-risk areas: stay and risk death. Photo: Wayne TaylorVICTORIANS will be told this fire season that they face a ”high risk of trauma, injury or death” if they seek shelter in a place of ”last resort” such as a local oval or a dam during an intense bushfire.

The blunt warning will feature in this summer’s bushfire safety campaign, a campaign that Victorian Fire Services commissioner Craig Lapsley said would be sharper and ”more in your face”.

It will be the first time that Victorian fire services have given such an explicit warning in a public campaign about the risk of trauma, injury or death due to bushfire, he said.

In an interview with The Age ahead of fire action week, which starts this Sunday, Mr Lapsley also recommended that parents remove children from high bushfire-risk areas before the hint of fire on days declared ”extreme” or ”code red”. He urged people in high-risk areas to make sure they had insurance coverage.

The information campaign will recommend that residents of high fire risk areas ”leave early” when a ”code red” fire danger rating has been declared, as leaving early is ”always the safest option”. And it will tell people to become familiar with the layout of their local area and to always be aware whether a ”total fire ban” has been declared and what to do in such an event.

”For the first time we’ve been willing to say inside our campaign material: ‘High risk of trauma, injury and death’,” Mr Lapsley said.

”We’re now saying that if you are caught in the neighbourhood with an intense fire, that there’s a high risk of trauma, injury and death.”

The warning that residents face a high risk of death during an intense fire if they seek shelter in a place of last resort even applies to ”neighbourhood safer places” – designated community areas that have a buffer zone free of vegetation. Authorities warn they should only be used ”when all other bushfire plans have failed”.

Mr Lapsley also expressed surprise at the failure of some residents in high fire-risk areas to develop a bushfire safety plan. ”There’s some survey information that as high as 75 per cent of people … do not see the need to have a plan,” he said.

Mr Lapsley’s recommendation to parents to remove children from high fire risk areas on ”extreme” and ”code red” days mirrors a recommendation made by the Bushfires Royal Commission interim report. It said ”families with young children, older people, and disabled people” should plan to relocate to safety early. A heartbreaking fact of the 2009 Victorian bushfires remains that nearly half of the 173 people killed were either aged under 12, over 70, or were suffering from a disability or ”an acute or chronic illness”.

Mr Lapsley said that on extreme or code red days, fires have the potential to be intense and very noisy. ”When you’re a young person it can be extremely scary and traumatic.”

”[If] it’s extreme … I’m not sure that you want your children to be part of that defence plan. They’ll be exposed to things that will harm them long-term.”

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