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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 10621

Mr CADMAN (1:15 PM) — I want to talk about the bushfires in our area. They have been really serious. I want to describe to the House the commitment of firefighters, the dedication of volunteers, some of the tragedies that have occurred and some of the follow-on that will occur after the fires. The fires started and travelled at a rate of roughly 10 kilometres an hour through rugged country and eucalyptus bush. Lawns that appeared to be devoid of grass because they were cut so short actually burned with flames a foot high. The intensity of the heat, the dryness of the environment, and the fuel load that was on the forest floor created circumstances that have not been seen in known memory of bushfires in that area. The speed with which the fires travelled, the intensity of the heat and the significance of the burn was such that there were ember showers throwing thousands of embers hundreds of yards ahead of the actual flames, and spot fires were starting a kilometre or two ahead of the actual fire front.

We tragically had a loss of two lives—one directly related to the fire and one indirectly—and a number of injuries. Thirty-two homes in my electorate were lost, and a larger number across the whole area were lost. The scale of the burn was roughly 50 kilometres by 50 kilometres across the north and west of Sydney, on the fringes of the city, with the real risk, if there had been a wind change at a certain point last Sunday, that the fire front would have swept deeply into the suburbs of the north of Sydney—into Glenhaven, Annangrove, Kenthurst, Galston and Dural, across to Hornsby, Hornsby Heights and Wahroonga and right across to the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, the wind and weather conditions changed and the fire has been brought under control.

There were approximately 1,500 firefighters engaged in the event. In addition to those firefighters, something over 200 firefighting units were out continuously. In addition to that, there were the volunteers of the State Emergency Service—a great organisation—doing traffic control and giving backup to the fire services, going out into dangerous areas to provide sustenance to the firefighters so they could stay on the job. In addition to that, in the fire centre at Kenthurst, which the Prime Minister visited last Sunday, we had working side by side the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, who were in charge of the process, under Mr John Hojel; the SES, as I have said; the New South Wales Police; the New South Wales Fire Brigade; the ambulance people; local government authorities; St John's; and VAD. All of those organisations related to bringing this emergency under control were working side by side in cells, managing their particular responsibilities in a unique and intense circumstance, but with great cooperation and goodwill.

I know that the volunteers supporting this process included elements from local Red Cross branches, the Country Women's Association and local churches. People just dropped things to come to the centre to cut sandwiches, prepare food and do anything possible to comfort families who had lost their homes, including providing accommodation and support. There were hundreds of individuals involved, and I want to pay tribute to them. Our community is going to pay tribute to these volunteers and firefighters on 26 February. We are going to gather at the Dural Country Club and pay tribute to these people who were involved. I would also like to mention Ben, a 14-year-old volunteer who was there day in, day out, doing a great job; and Allison, a part-time worker in the fire centre, who whinged so much they eventually gave her a uniform to fit her out like a traditional firefighter. (Time expired)