Graham Martindale has been the elected Captain of the Fernmount Branch of the Rural Fire Service (RFS) since 2003 and has been volunteering with the branch since 1991. Just like many of our heroic volunteers, Graham is very humble about his role in protecting the Shire. But with the very real threat of fire from our west, we sought Graham’s sage advice for Shire residents over the coming days and weeks.
What is your list of essentials for preparing properties against the threat of fire?
Have a Bush Fire Plan! Know if or when you are going to evacuate and keep your kids close when there is a bad day so you don’t have to go looking for them.
Our crew attended the Taylors Arm fire on the Friday 8th November. It was a bad day. There were three things I saw that day that I am glad I don’t have on my property.
I saw a tall palm tree just erupt in flames as the fire front came over us. It was at least 20 metres tall with no other trees around it. It was just the radiant heat that ignited it and the flaming fronds fell all over the house we were protecting.
Then once the fire front had gone past, we spent quite a while putting out the fine wood mulch that was on the gardens.
At another house we had to drive up their driveway, but they had old tyres around their trees leading up to the house on either side. All the tyres were on fire and so we had to drive through the flames to get to the house so we could evacuate the two ladies there. Luckily our trucks have wheel sprays and front spray nozzles.
So be careful of what you plant and store around your houses.
If you have a swimming pool or large water tanks that are full, let the local brigade know. Or better still get some SWS (Static Water Supply) signs to put on your front gate so the Fire trucks coming know there is water there that they can use to save your house.
If the fire front is several kms away- when should residents flee?
It all comes back to your Bush Fire Plan and knowing your ‘triggers’ to leaving. Your fire plan includes – Prepare – Act – Survive. Know what the Fire Danger Rating is each day during the fire season. Have everything prepared, like your valuables and clothes in your car in case you need to flee. Listen to the radio to find out what is happening- and a battery operated radio will still work if there is power outage.
As far as distance from the fire is concerned, it will all depends on the speed of the fire. If it is really windy, leave as early as possible.
If a resident chooses to stay and protect their property- do you have any essential tips that will reduce the danger to themselves?
Firstly, wear long sleeves and long pants, covered boots, gloves and even a hat. You don’t see RFS crews running around in shorts, singlets and thongs. There is a reason for that! Wool is generally considered the most flame-resistant natural fiber, because it is difficult to ignite and flames are often extinguished in the fibers.
Block your drain pipes.
Remove flammable items from around your home- doormats, outdoor furniture etc.
Pack your planned belongings into your car even if you have decided to stay and protect. You don’t know when that decision might change.
There is talk that everyone in a rural setting should be equipped with a power generator, a fire fighting water pump and a roof sprinkler system. Do you include these pieces of equipment in your list of essentials?
I guess that all depends on your Bushfire Survival Plan. If you are going to stay and protect, these things would help. But again, they are no good if you don’t have the water to use to protect your home.
Do you believe the current climatic conditions are exceptional based on your experience?
Whether you believe in climate change or not, we are in the middle of a substantial drought. In saying that, we are seeing fire seasons that last longer and are more severe.
Bellingen Shire has been subject to large fires in 1936, 1946, 1951, 1957, 1964 and 1968. It would be interesting to know if these were drought years as well?
There is a lot of fuel on the ground. Anyone who walks through the local forest surrounding Bellingen will tell you the same thing.
There is criticism that there has been a lack of fire reduction burns over the colder months. Do you believe the climatic conditions this year allowed for more fire reduction burns or that this would have made a difference to our current situation?
Hazard Reductions can only be carried out when conditions are right. Being in drought it has been difficult to get the right conditions.
It is also important to understand that Hazard Reductions Burns don’t just happen. There is at least a year’s planning that has to go into a burn. So brigades are planning a year ahead and then if conditions aren’t favourable the Hazard Reduction is postponed.
If these climatic conditions continue into the future, do you think many more Shire residents should receive fire fighting education and training?
It is always good to know what to do, but it would be even better if people joined their local Fire Brigade. Bellingen and Coffs Harbour crews have been going since early September locally and before that to out of area fires. So it has already been a long start to the Fire season and we have not even reached summer yet. Not everyone has to be on a truck fighting fires, there are plenty of other jobs in the back ground. Even if you can just help with cleaning of the vehicles when they get back from a fire, taking the load off the fire fighters so they can get some sleep. Go and see your local fire brigade and see what help is needed.
Finally, what advice have you got for Shire residents?
Stay up to date with the Fire Near Me app and listen to ABC local radio for fire information. Follow advice from the RFS Website and RFS Social Media pages.
But above all, be vigilant, prepare your bush fire plan and stay safe.