Residents of mobile phone black spot town Dereel were left shaken after a 15-hectare grass fire spread through their town on Saturday afternoon.
This is the third major fire Dereel has seen in the past 14 months, following the devastating bushfires in March last year that burned more than 1300 hectares and destroyed 16 properties.
It also comes as Telstra has revealed it does not have enough money budgeted to build a new phone tower in Dereel.
Last month, a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher told residents the earliest a phone tower could be erected was late 2015.
This means Dereel residents will be unable to make mobile phone calls or
receive emergency fire warnings via text message for another bushfire season.
Rokewood resident Tracey Taylor, who has been lobbying the state government for a phone tower, said Saturday’s fire began on her friend’s Colac-Ballarat Road property about 3.30pm.
“She rang my home phone and I went straight over there,” Ms Taylor said. “I was in the middle of things, trying to keep her calm and her partner was trying to round up the horses ... it was chaotic.”
About 25 fire trucks and two aircraft brought the fire under control at 5.11pm.
Ms Taylor said the fire was a perfect example of why the government needed to invest in a phone tower for Dereel.
“I have to be standing outside with one hand on my nose and one foot up in the air to get a text message out here,” she said.
“That is unacceptable.”
Last month about 60 Dereel residents attended a community consultation tour to discuss the federal government’s $100 million Mobile Coverage Program.
The funding is expected to be used as leverage to bring phone carriers to the table and discuss the possibility of erecting more towers.
Ms Taylor and fellow resident Julie Donaghy have been lobbying the state and federal government for upgrades to mobile black spot areas for the past year.
“We have high speed NBN, but no mobile reception. It is crazy,” she said.
CFA state duty officer Brett Boatman said the state control centre used a number of platforms to broadcast emergency information.
“We need to be reminded we also have reliable channels like radio and television to get the message out there,” Mr Boatman said.