People huddle around a speaker outside a packed town meeting in Mallacoota waiting for updates for fire conditions and evacuation procedure. Picture: David Caird
People huddle around a speaker outside a packed town meeting in Mallacoota waiting for updates for fire conditions and evacuation procedure. Picture: David Caird

Listen and act as warnings save lives: Minister

THE devastation and unfolding humanitarian emergency on the NSW south coast and Victoria's East Gippsland had re-enforced the need for people to respond to warnings, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford says.

 

Kane Hartrup and his son Cole, 4, wearing masks due to the heavy smoke as they await evacuation from Mallacoota. Picture: David Caird
Kane Hartrup and his son Cole, 4, wearing masks due to the heavy smoke as they await evacuation from Mallacoota. Picture: David Caird

 

Mr Crawford said it should be abundantly clear by now just how dangerous bushfires could be.

"When you are told to leave an area, either through an emergency alert of PSPA (Public Safety Preservation Act) declaration, you need to leave immediately," he said.

The act has been brought to bear three times already on the Sunshine Coast since the start of the 2019-20 fire season.

 

Campers and residents line up to cross the Noosa River by ferry during the mass evacuation of the Noosa North Shore due to bushfires in November.
Campers and residents line up to cross the Noosa River by ferry during the mass evacuation of the Noosa North Shore due to bushfires in November.

 

Peregian and Marcus Beach were evacuated on September 10 last year when a bushfire driven northeast from Peregian Springs threatened to engulf beachside communities.

Then on November 8, a fire burning in a southerly direction saw the entire village of Tewantin, including thousands of people, stream from their homes to alternative accommodation.

And again on December 18, residents in Peregian Springs, Weyba Downs, Doona and Lake Weyba were evacuated to safe zones.

"You risk your own safety, and that of emergency services personnel, by ignoring these directions. I can't stress how important it is to listen to the authorities - it truly does save lives," Mr Crawford said.

 

Lesa Spencer with dog Sonny at the Noosa Junction evacuation centre during the forced evacuation in the face of fires at Peregian Beach.
Lesa Spencer with dog Sonny at the Noosa Junction evacuation centre during the forced evacuation in the face of fires at Peregian Beach.

 

Queensland Fire and Rescue Services Sunshine Coast head of professional development Commander Bernie Massingham was in charge of the more than 120 appliances and several hundred firefighters who saved Peregian in September.

He said public safety was paramount. The invoking of the act had been part of a strategy developed with the Queensland Police Service.

"We were so very fortunate in Peregian that people listened," he said.

"It made the job all the more efficient. We didn't have to worry about the public being in harm's way.

"Everything except people can be replaced. If you are told to go, go and things work out in the right way."

Weight of attack has been the key strategy to protecting life and property in a series of fires on the Sunshine Coast this season.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency and Rural Fire Services get as many units as possible to a fire as quickly as possible, as well as air assets.

Co-ordination with Queensland Police Service, Queensland Ambulance Service and local authorities has ensured firefighters can focus on getting control as quickly as possible.

Inspector Matt Inwood, Caloundra QFES Rural Fire Services area director, said warnings were put out for a reason - to protect life and property - and it was important that they be heeded.

"Follow the advice given," he said.

Mr Crawford said the State Government had delivered a record $40.8 million in the 2019-20 Budget for the Rural Fire Service, including fuel, maintenance and uniforms.

"That's on top of the 332 new rural fire appliances delivered to rural brigades since 2015," he said.

"We have always backed our Rural Fire Service and will continue to fund them for the safety of all Queenslanders."