Lauren O'Keefe

Journalist | Photographer | Cyclist

Tag: CFA

Butt out, don’t flick out

The CFA and Environment Protection Authority are calling on smokers to not flick their cigarettes, especially from car windows.

With the fire danger period for North Eastern Victoria expected to continue into May, the CFA and EPA are asking that people think about how they’re disposing of their cigarette butts.

Many fires in Victoria are caused by discarded lit cigarette butts and EPA North East Region manager Emma Knights is hoping people will continue to report others who flick their butts out of car window.

‘‘EPA counts on members of the public to report people who flick their butts out of car windows,’’ Ms Knights said.

‘Flicking lit cigarettes out your car window is a serious fire hazard, as recent fire tragedies across our state have shown.

‘‘And cigarette butt litter pollutes our roadsides and chokes our waterways.’’

Some of Victoria’s worst bushfires were sparked by discarded cigarettes and the CFA regularly attends fire caused by people who have flicked their butt away when they’ve finished their cigarette.

Mr Warrington said more than half of Victorian bushfires are deliberately lit or caused by reckless behaviour.

‘‘One of the most common causes is inappropriately disposing of cigarette butts,’’ he said.

‘‘Recklessly caused fires are often viewed by the community as accidental, but in reality, the potential for injury, loss of life, property damage and drain on resources is the same as that caused by arson.’’

The EPA handed out more than $5million in fines to Victorians for throwing away litter from their cars with the majority being cigarette butts.

Ms Knights said that EPA’s litter reporting program works to curb cigarette butt littering, with fines and enforcement actions undertaken through the courts ‘‘sending a clear message that this kind of mindless behaviour will have real consequences’’.

EPA litter fines range from $322 for a small piece of rubbish or unlit cigarette up to $645 for a lit cigarette.

Individuals issued with a litter fine have the right to request that EPA review the matter or to have it determined in court.

People can report littering via EPA’s website, through its smartphone litter app, or by phoning 1300 372 842.

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on March 20 2019.

Avenel fire brought under control

The fire at Tarcombe Rd near Avenel which was started by lightning strikes on March 1 is now under control.

Difficult terrain restricted the firefighting efforts against the blaze near Booroola Homestead.

Although under control and well within containment lines, the fire is still an ongoing concern for the CFA who remain onsite.

It’s estimated that the fire has destroyed 220ha of dense scrub which includes stringybark eucalyptus trees and tea trees.

When clumps of tea trees catch fire, they can send flames three or four metres up into the air.

Firefighters set up containment lines around the fire but were restricted in their firefighting efforts because of the steep, rocky terrain.

CFA crews are on the ground night and day, constantly monitoring the fire.

Incident controller Peter Bell said aircraft were used to water-bomb the fire.

‘‘[The terrain] is all mountain range, rocks, boulders and the like that can’t be driven across so we’re fighting it with aircraft and tankers up close where we can,’’ he said.

‘‘We have aircraft fly across it each day to find out all the hot spots so we can try and water-bomb those.’’

The fire has been burning in deep valleys that run in a north/south direction with limited drivable tracks which made it hard to access the fire.

‘‘Because we can’t get into the actual fire because of the hilly and steep terrain, we’ve got to let it burn out to the control lines which is sometimes putting up a lot of smoke which you’ll be seeing across the district,’’ Mr Bell said.

Unlike the Bunyip State Park fire which has destroyed over 30 houses and nearly 70 outbuildings, no structures have been lost as the area is sparsely populated.

The fire did come extremely close to the vineyard at Booroola Homestead where picking is under way but firefighters successfully defended the vines and none were damaged.

Mr Bell said that there was no danger to the public or any structures.

Due to the terrain, Mr Bell said what they really need is rain to give the site a good soaking but at the moment there’s little forecast.

One of the bigger concerns now is air quality with VicEmergency issuing a statewide warning for the Labour Day long weekend.

This was due to smoke from the various fires combining and drifting across the state.

People can connect to multiple sources for emergency information, including the VicEmergency app emergency.vic.gov.au, the VicEmergency hotline on 1800 226 226, or follow VicEmergency on Facebook and Twitter.

For information about the effects of smoke on health go to epa.vic.gov.au/your-environment/air/smoke or for more information on air quality visit EPA’s website at epa.vic.gov.au/airwatch

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on March 13, 2019.

Remembering the 2009 Victoria Bushfires

The remembrance garden at District 12 headquarters.

A plaque dedicated to the men and women who fought the 2009 Victorian Bushfires was unveiled during a ceremony last week.

A commemoration event for the 10-year anniversary of the fires was held at the District 12 headquarters in Seymour last Thursday.

Former CFA regional director Alan Davies hosted the service, which was attended by representatives from all the emergency services and the Australian Defence Force.

Senior CFA staff were in attendance including chief executive officer Paul Smith, chief officer Steve Warrington and assistant chief officer Ross Sullivan.

Operation managers from four of the five CFA districts in the North East were also in attendance including the regional commander Paul King.

CFA chief officer Steve Warrington

Chief officer Steve Warrington was the deputy chief officer at the time of the 2009 bushfires and he was invited to speak at the event.

Mr Warrington spoke about what he remembers of the fires and days that preceded them.

He remembers days of continuous hot weather when more than 300 people died, the extremely low humidity and storm force winds that grounded the bulk of the aircraft used for firefighting

He spoke about having to make the terrible decision to not send aircraft to areas that desperately needed them.

Mr Warrington said the 10-year anniversary of the fires was time to reflect on the 173 lives lost on the day but to also remember the many more who have died since.

He also spoke about how he saw people come together and that ‘‘badges were forgotten’’.

On that day in 2009 he said it didn’t matter where someone had come from, if they were CFA, MBF, SES, Parks Victoria, Police, SES.

What mattered was everyone working together to try to save as many lives as possible.

He had only praise for the crews who worked so hard to protect what they could.

He warned that no one can ‘‘rest on their laurels’’ and the sad reality is there will be another incident like the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.

But Mr Warrington pointed out that some good had come from the fires with the development of the national Emergency Alert system and the advances in technology that helped the CFA both fight fires and warn the public.

Mr Warrington also urged anyone who was struggling to seek help and told those in attendance that he himself had sought help in dealing with trauma caused by the fires.

‘‘There’s no shame in asking for help,’’ he said.

With the conclusion of Mr Warrington’s speech, a smoking ceremony was conducted by Uncle Steve Walsh, a Taungurung man.

Mr Walsh explained that smoking ceremonies are traditionally used to welcome people onto tribe land, to offer protection to those present and as a cleansing of the spirit.

He invited all in attendance to step into the smoke.

Six wreaths were then laid by a representative of each of the emergency services and the Australian Defence Force.

CFA chief executive officer Paul Smith laid a wreath that incorporated the names of the 173 people who died in the fires.

The other wreaths were laid by representatives from the CFA, Victorian Police, Ambulance Victoria, State Emergency Service and the Australian Defence Force.

Once the wreaths were in place, a minute’s silence was observed.

To end the ceremony, six rose bushes were planted to form a remembrance garden.

The plaque in the remembrance garden.

Five of the roses represent each fire district in the North East with the final one representing the communities who suffered in the fires.

Representatives from districts 12, 13, 22, 23 and 24 planted a rose bush each and the final one for the community was planted by former CFA chaplain Graeme Scorringe.

The roses were planted around three pillars of wood, representing the forests.

Also buried in the garden are thoughts and reflections of CFA volunteers and staff as a gesture of feeding new growth and new beginnings.

At the front is a plaque dedicated to those who fought the fires, thanking for their service.

Mr Warrington unveiled the plaque and said that while the community should move forward, no one should ever forget what happened.

‘‘Our history should serve as a reminder to our future. To ensure that as emergency service practitioners, while we can never guarantee that it won’t happen again, all our endeavours are towards ensuring the impacts are reduced, that our communities are safe. And that all our people come home in the future.’’

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 13 2019.

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