Words by: Tom Munday
Despite the number of warnings and emergency procedures, Western Australia’s bushfire problem is still one of our biggest hindrances blinding us from looking forward. Late January, a thick layer of smog lathered most of Perth suburbs for several days. Traffic jams, morning and evening, became more unpleasant than usual, the picturesque view of the city became shrouded in thick smog, and the city’s naturally clean air turned into an asthma sufferer’s worst nightmare. Last month’s incident was only match-sized compared to the bigger picture.
However, the bushfire in question, burning just outside Wanneroo in the Pinjar Pine Plantation, became a significantly bigger hazard for the northern suburbs’ residents, land developments, and wildlife. As the fire tore through several urban areas, The Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued a watch and act notice for multiple suburbs including Nowergup, Yanchep, Carabooda, and Pinjar in the area bordered by Clover Road, Wanneroo Road, and Wesco Road.
The Wanneroo blaze, having occurred so close to Perth and it’s surrounding regions, was an eye-opener for every citizen. The fact that major natural disasters like this could kick start, rage out of control, and make us question our state’s stability so quickly is, if anything, cause for intense discussion. With multiple factors involved, how long will it be before one of Perth’s most populated suburbs is destroyed? Everything in a densely populated and manipulated are can be drastically affected by just one spark.
We live in one of the hottest and least predictable countries in the world. Our arid climate conditions, expansive bushland areas, and limited resources provide a one-step-forward-two-steps-back ordeal for our brave firefighting crews to face. The mix of cold yet parched winters, humid springs, and unrelentingly dry summers develops the perfect mix of conditions for bushfires to continually sprout up across each state and Territory. However, though bushfires have been a part of our climate for an estimated 60 million years, we all have the tools and responsibility to extinguish this harrowing occurrence.
The situation, however, continues to effect several major districts across the state. Last month, bushfires tore through Boddington, Windy Harbour, and Northcliffe in the state’s Southwest. Receiving much-needed supplies and assistance from the Australian Defence Force (ADF), the fire became, so far, our state’s biggest and most destructive natural disaster. Indeed, satellite imagery illuminated the full extent of the fire’s overwhelming scale and devastation. In addition, recent fires in Bullsbrook, Kingsway Drive (near Serpentine Dam), the Donnybrook-Balingup region, and Glen Eagle – near the City of Armadale – have set alight previous assumptions, predictions, and precautions about our state’s safety.
Everything from arson to well-placed lightning strikes can turn a magnificent forest region into hellish nightmare. Bushfires, being such a regular and unfortunate occurrence, make for one the WA Government’s most pressing and ubiquitous issues. Our state and federal government’s controversial, albeit backwards and unsubstantiated, views on climate change have pushed issues such as bushfire prevention onto the backburner. Our state government, still burning through the Bush Fires Act of 1954, refuses to accept the world’s climate, over the past 61 years, has been drastically alerted by human influence.
Australian firefighters, whether or not they be volunteer, have taken too much of the blame and pain caused by this issue. As of June 30th last year, according to the Department and Fire Emergency Services, there were 1, 120 firefighters across WA. In addition, DFES has 1, 527 emergency cadets, 509 juniors (registered with brigades, groups, and units) registered with 103 junior cadet programs and 40 Emergency Services Cadets units. These statistics do sound impressive. The brave men and women serving to protect the rest us deserve infinite credit. However, when compared to the state’s immense land mass and persons per capita ratio, these numbers are still too low.
The devastating mix of unpredictable climate conditions and wreckless criminal actions keep the fire season going long through the year. Earlier this year, ABC news reported a rise in copycat syndrome – caused by 24-hour news reporting – as being one of the biggest problems for volunteer firefighters across the state. Police have since sought public help with their investigation into two deliberately-lit fires in Ellenbrook. They were able to rule out accidental causes thanks to the small vicinity and time span between both fires. This year has seen two boys charged over a large scrub fire in Coolbinia and two volunteer firefighters from the same brigade charged with smaller fires across the state.
Multiple factions are fighting the battle between devastating disasters and brave volunteers for decades. The Office of Bushfire Risk Management (OBRM), established in May 2012, is a specific office within the DFES set up to oversee changes to WA’s prescribes burning tenure. The State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC), established in July 2013, because of the Keelty Special Inquiry into the Perth Hills bushfire disaster. The Emergency Service Levy funds these organizations, funding WA fire and emergency services, career and volunteer fire brigades, and State Emergency Service (SES). Since its introduction in 2003, fire services in regional areas have drastically improved due to updated equipment and higher volunteer numbers.
The prominence of fire prevention campaigns has helped the State Government and citizens make the right decisions before these events occur. The State Government’s Prepare. Act. Survive. Program, having landed former cricketer Justin Langer as WA Bushfire Ready Ambassador, has been one the state’s most successful and alarming campaigns to date. The Prepare. Act. Survive structure delivers ac concise and comprehensive guide to defending homes, large bushland areas, and lives. The ease-of-access approach pushes every citizen to be alert during bushfire season.
The Black Saturday and Perth Hills bushfires provide more enough evidence to suggest this is our country’s biggest ongoing problem. State and Federal Governments, though content on keeping everyone in the dark, have to face this issue head on. Despite the careful consideration given to awareness campaigns and emergency services across the state, Colin Barnett and co. must find a way to pull their resources, each emergency service division, fire brigades, and the public together to put out this bright, unrelenting flame. To decrease fire statistics and ignite statewide change, every citizen must be made aware of the consequences. Sadly, the happening-in-your-own-backyard danger is ever present.