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Catastrophic fire danger in northern SA -

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Catastrophic fire danger in northern SA

Nance Haxton reported this story on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 12:40:00

ELEANOR HALL: Schools and childcare centres have closed across South Australia today and many
people have left their homes in response to the nation's first catastrophic fire warning.

The catastrophic alert was declared for a large portion of the state.

But there has been some confusion about how residents particularly in the more remote areas should
react.

As Nance Haxton reports.

NANCE HAXTON: South Australia's Country Fire Service is pleased with how people in the Flinders and
Northwest Pastoral districts have responded to the catastrophic fire warning - the first time that
it's been issued in Australia.

The new fire danger rating means that any fires that do break out will be uncontrollable and fast
moving.

Thousands of homes and businesses could be destroyed, and it's likely that people in the path of
the fire would die.

CFS state coordinator Brenton Eden says it is up to each individual in the affected areas to decide
how they should respond.

BRENTON EDEN: Farmers in particular are recognising today a day of high risk, to be on the land, so
they're choosing to go elsewhere or they're choosing to return and do maintenance on their
properties instead of being out on their harvesters.

Schools have been closed in the high risk areas today to secure the environment for the students
and the staff, so think for the first introduction of a day of these catastrophic declarations,
whilst everyone is learning, I think the day is going quite well.

NANCE HAXTON: Because it does cover quite a large area of the state, these two districts, I just
wonder how smaller towns really in some of those remote areas that really aren't near any bushfire
risk, whether there's some confusion there.

BRENTON EDEN: Look there may well be, but I think the message to get across is that right at the
individual level, the family level, through to the worksite and communities, days like today
challenge individuals and communities to assess their own risk and say, am I safe where I currently
am?

Is my building well constructed, well defended? Is there no risk of fine flammable fuels around me?
And in which case that could be assessed as a defendable location.

It's completely different for those who are in less secure and defendable structures surrounded by
fine fuels whether they be grass or crop or located in more significant vegetation. They're the
people that need to be saying, I am going to move somewhere to a safer location. And that safer
location may be the neighbour's property, it may be a large commercial shopping centre still within
the local district.

So if people are making those conscious decisions and doing those moves, then I think we're getting
the message across.

NANCE HAXTON: The principal of Melrose Primary School Ruth Robertson says they were notified at
5.30pm yesterday that the school would close today.

She says that didn't give them a lot of time to notify parents.

RUTH ROBERTSON: We'll all work through it and we'll sort out what any issues are and take them and
probably together sort out how we might be able to make the system a little better.

NANCE HAXTON: The principal of Stirling North School Stuart Knox says while they had developed a
bushfire plan, they also need more time to let all parents know that the school is closing.

STUART KNOX: Say if it was to happen again, our understanding is that we may be given a couple of
days' notice which would probably make it easier so we could spend a bit more time talking to
families.

I just think it was a positive that staff were on deck still at 4.30 and were all able to make
those phone calls to parents.

NANCE HAXTON: The message didn't get through to all parents. Jim Heaslip from Appila dropped his
child off at Booleroo School, only to find it was closed.

JIM HEASLIP: There was confusion this morning about whether the school was open or not. I actually
rang the department hotline and the department hotline said that it was closed, yet we'd been
informed last night that it was open but the busses wouldn't be running.

So yeah I think the system needs a bit of tweaking.

NANCE HAXTON: But the owner of Booleroo bakery Mitchell Sard says people in the area are aware of
what's going on and the system has worked well.

MITCHELL SARD: Our children go to the day-care and they're off to grandma's and grandpa's place for
the day. Some farmers have said that they're going to Renmark, others have said that they're going
to Pulperry (phonetic) fishing for the day and others are working on their tractors and stuff.

NANCE HAXTON: Some are concerned that the new categories are too confusing. The State Opposition
Leader Isobel Redmond says the Government should better explain to people what they should do in
the case of a catastrophic fire warning.

ISOBEL REDMOND: I think the difficulty that remains for us, is how do people understand what that
means and what do they need to do in response to having an area declared catastrophic?

NANCE HAXTON: The State Member for Giles Lyn Breuer, whose electorate covers much of the area under
catastrophic fire warning today, says people are glad to have a system that will hopefully prevent
a repeat of the Victorian bushfires.

LYN BREUER: I think everybody's heart is going out to this and I think that all communities will
get behind helping as much as they possibly can.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Member for Giles Lyn Breuer ending Nance Haxton's report.