Why DFES prefers residents to leave early

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Ember attack running in front of the Red Gully bushfire, which has burnt 9400ha and continues to put people and homes at risk. Picture: Nikki Woods/DFES

IT is best if people stay away from their homes when they are in an emergency warning area even if they cannot see smoke or the bushfire, according to Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm.

Mr Klemm said DFES preferred people to have a bushfire plan that resulted in them leaving early and not leaving the decision to leave until too late.

He said the Red Gully bushfire, which has so far burnt 9400ha, had shown why leaving early was best.

“I think the example is the last two afternoons we’ve seen significant break outs,’’ he said.

“On Monday afternoon the fire ran nearly 20km to the west and that’s not a time to have people in and around homes that are in that emergency warning area.’’

Yesterday the Department of Fire and Emergency Services put out an alert saying the Red Gully bushfire would affect the Ocean Farms estate within an hour, which media, including Yanchep News Online reported.

But when the fire did not arrive some people apparently questioned why the area was still under emergency warning when they could not see smoke or the bushfire.

Mr Klemm told journalists at a press conference at the main incident control centre in Gingin this afternoon that firefighters managed to pull up the bushfire that has been threatening the estate and keep it about 3km away whereas prior to that they had been unable to keep the fire within containment boundaries due to strong winds.

“We had a very good timely retardant drop from the large airtanker at last light last night (Tuesday), which managed to slow it up enough to allow crews to get in there last night and hold it up and so that has held so far today and we’re reasonably confident we can maintain that for this afternoon,’’ he said.

But Mr Klemm said if people went back to their homes and the bushfire broke containment lines not only would their lives be at risk but it meant firefighters had to deal with getting people out of the area taking their focus off fighting the bushfire.

“There’s still some people in Ocean Farms estate and yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon when the fire was looking like it was going to impact we had crews in there trying to get those people out – to convince them to leave.’’

He said he was not sure how many people still remained in the estate.

“I understand the romantic notion around protecting your house and the connection that people have to it but the first priority for us is life and making sure we don’t lose anybody’s life in a bushfire is absolutely paramount for us.’’

Mr Klemm said earlier in the bushfire there had been gusts up to 80km/h across the fireground making it incredibly difficult for firefighters.

“Not only is it not safe to put firefighters at the head of the fire in those types of circumstances but also it’s incredibly difficult once a fire hops over to be able to get around it and put it out so those have been the challenges particularly the last two afternoons,’’ he said.

Mr Klemm said everything – from the aircraft to the firefighters on the ground and the people doing the planning around where the aircraft would drop retardant came together at the right time to save the subdivision on Tuesday.

The forecast southerly (sea breeze) also did not eventuate, which would have pushed into the fire ground exposing the north flank of the fire.

He said a lot of work had gone into protecting the north flank because they knew there would potentially be challenges on Sunday if the predicted weather change arrived.

But he said in the meantime the next few days were going to be particularly challenging with temperatures of 41 and 43 degrees forecast along with strong easterly winds.

Keep up to date:

Visit emergency.wa.gov.au, call 13 DFES (13 3337), follow DFES on Twitter: twitter.com/dfes_wa, Facebook: facebook.com/dfeswa, listen to ABC Local Radio, 6PR, or news bulletins.

During a power outage, your home phone, computer or other electronic devices connected to the NBN will not work so include a battery powered radio in your emergency kit.

Updates will be issued every hour unless the situation changes.