An extended period of extremely dry conditions and wild winds led to a ferocious early start to the annual bushfire season, with a number of homes threatened around Peregian Springs and numerous fires burning throughout the hinterland in September.
All of this week, the Queensland Government, Sunshine Coast Council and emergency services have banded together for Get Ready Queensland week, aimed at preparing us for bushires, flooding and other natural disasters.
Sunshine Coast Council’s disaster management coordinator Cathy Buck says the ember storm that swirled around Peregian Beach is a reminder to Coast residents that anything can happen and it’s best to be prepared in advance.
“The firefighters I’ve spoken to have never seen anything like that ember storm, plenty of blazes of course, but this was definitely unique activity for the Sunshine Coast,” she says.
“It was so sudden that the only action was for people to evacuate in that case, but as a general rule we find more people who have experienced fires elsewhere and then moved to the Coast are very diligent with fire evacuation plans. The Peregian fires have served as a timely reminder to all of us not to become complacent and to remain diligent about being prepared.”
The Peregian fires started on September 9 and burned for two days, resulting in hundreds of residents being evacuated from the area. One home was completely lost in the ember storm, another was severely damaged and large portions of bushland were destroyed.
A 14-year-old Peregian Springs boy and a 15-year-old Coolum Beach girl were charged with endangering particular property by fire on September 12. The following day, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services were battling 70 fires across the state.
Ms Buck says a number of fires have raged across the hinterland already this season, with many in inaccessible bushland that become natural firebreaks.
“We activated the local disaster management group for the Peregian fires and over three days we would have had upwards of 150 to 200 personnel coming through the centre for shifts because we operate 24/7 and that’s just our local disaster group. We also were in touch with outreach organisations like Lifeline and Red Cross who don’t necessarily come into our centres, but who head to the evacuation centres to assist people directly,” Ms Buck says.
“All of the agencies work together like one big machine. Everyone has a specific role to make sure that people are kept safe and looked after in social and emotional aspects as well.”
The Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) long-term predictions show there won’t be any substantial rainfall until January 2020, leaving the region vulnerable to more bushfires.
“We are very well prepared and we are taking no chances. We do need to look at how these fires are staring. Often it is the result of people doing activities that inadvertently cause fires, like mowing the lawns. Sometimes mowing can cause a little spark and in times of high winds and dry weather, that’s all it takes to start a fire,” she says.
The past week has been all about creating ‘what if’ plans.
“If you have to leave immediately, your evacuation pack should be ready to go and contain three days worth of what you need to survive. Food, water, certainly medication if you regularly take any, and any important documents. It’s also a good idea to throw in spare clothes too,” she says.
“First and foremost is the safety of you, your family and your pets. It’s also a good idea to connect with your neighbours, particularly elderly neighbours who might not be able to prepare their own evacuation kits and procedures.”
Some people can experience anxiety when talking about the ‘what ifs’, however they are necessary conversations.
“Communicating to kids or those who are anxious why it is important to be prepared will help, especially if you put it in the context of how you would be ready and not have to panic if an alarm was sounded and you had to leave quickly,” she says.
“This way, everyone is familiar with where to go, what to do and where to find your emergency evacuation kit.”
Ms Buck says it’s also important not to rely on social media for any disaster information or updates and rather to download the Sunshine Coast Council’s Disaster Hub app, follow the BOM or Queensland Fire and Emergency Service websites or tune into ABC radio. Remember, if you spot active fire or feel your property is under threat, call Triple Zero (000) immediately.
For all the information you need to be prepared for and informed during a disaster event visit disasterhub.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au.