Hard fire lessons

It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires.
The disaster was a defining moment in history for this region and its legacy can be seen in the modern CFS volunteer organisation we rely upon in 2013.
In the pages of today’s Courier readers can share in some of the amazing stories of survival from Ash Wednesday.
They are told by ordinary men and women who were residents of the Hills and going about their daily lives when fire changed everything.
They have important messages to share with those of us in the Hills who were not here when Ash Wednesday (1983 or 1980) swept through.
One woman who saved her house in 1983 after losing it in 1980 didn’t see a CFS truck or firefighter during her family’s battle and had no expectations of seeing one either.
Now her neighborhood has grown from two homes to 20 and she is worried about her community’s lack of fire experience.
New residents who live in suburban Mt Barker and Littlehampton would be surprised to learn how close their towns came to being burned down.
Back in 1983 there were no homes behind the Wallis Cinema or off Hurling Drive and flames raced through the paddocks to within 50m of the CFS shed and close to the high school and Mt Barker South Primary School.
Hundreds of residents formed a chain of firefighters putting out spot fires with knapsacks, hessian bags and garden hoses and property owners in the business district were battling ember attack.
It would be easy to say that those primitive methods wouldn’t be employed today, but Australians only have to look to the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009 to realise that there is always something to be learned but sometimes nature is too powerful to be contained.
Despite everything we have learned, people in those fire ravaged areas were still dressed in thongs and shorts trying to put out fires with a garden hose.
Today’s CFS is better skilled, drilled and equipped and we can probably thank better fire management practices, SA Police’s Operation Nomad targeting arsonists, the water bombers being able to work early in the morning – and luck – for escaping our own Black Saturday.
However, one day all the planets will align and we will have another fire disaster.
The water bombers won’t be able to fly at the height of a monster fire storm and the CFS won’t be able to respond to every call for help.
In that event the best defence we have is ourselves and the planning work we’ve done leading into the fire danger season.

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