Fire risk 'on the fringe of rural cities', warns Ferguson

FIRES could easily reach the fringe of a regional city like Ballarat this summer, according the Country Fire Authority’s chief officer. 

“We are reminding people who live on the fringe of Melbourne and the fringe of rural cities like Horsham, Ballarat, Warrnambool and Portland, they are also at risk,” Euan Ferguson said. 

“Last year, we saw a fire burn from Donnybrook into the northern suburbs of Melbourne. That could easily occur at any of our rural cities.” 

A fierce fire season is likely in rural Victoria, with Mr Ferguson saying the region’s strong water supplies was a positive. 

“The downside is that there is quite a lot of moisture in the ground,” he said. “What we will see is a significant amount of grass growth and a late growth in crops and that creates a lot of fuel for summer when everything dries out.”

The warning comes after the announcement a new fire refuge at Blackwood would be open this month. 

A community open day for the facility is expected to be held  on December 22. 

“There are three bushfire refuges that are planned for this bushfire season and one of those is Blackwood,” Mr Ferguson said. “Construction works at Blackwood Fire Station are well and truly advanced and the planning is that it will be ready by the end of December. That obviously depends on the construction timetable.” 

Mr Ferguson said it was important to remember the refuges were a new concept not only in Victoria but in Australia. 

“These are the first. They need to be properly evaluated. We need to review how they work after the fire seasons and then, obviously with the fire services commissioner and the government, we will be developing a more comprehensive policy approach into the future,” he said. 

In particular, Mr Ferguson warned farmers to be extra vigilant further into summer. 

“We are calling on farmers with the harvesting operations and their operating vehicles in the paddocks to pay attention and they need to carry a fire extinguisher or a knapsack on the back of their vehicle,” he said.

“Also a reminder, if the are cutting, grinding or welding – anything that might create sparks or heat – then they need to have a cleared area around that. They need have that by law and they need to have firefighting equipment. 

“If they start a fire, they might be prosecuted by Victorian Police.”

matthew.dixon@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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