Wanneroo firefighters hope to avoid fire repeat

Wanneroo firefighters hope to avoid fire repeat

EXTRA measures have been put in place to reduce the risk of peat fires this season after firefighters suffered burns when they fell through the surface of underground fires last summer.

City of Wanneroo chief bush fire control officer Paul Postma said fires in different vegetation types – such as pine plantations, native bushland or grasslands – all had potential to become big fires. However, risks with fires in former wetlands with peat soils became more evident last season.

“The issue with the peat fires is they have a potential to burn underground; some can be up to 2m underground. We can’t always detect where the fire is,” Mr Postma said.

“We had a 1ha peat fire in the former Neerabup lake in February; it was only 1ha in size but it burnt for five days.”

Mr Postma said they used 2 million litres of water on that fire, most of which was trucked in because there was no reticulated water supply.

He said the peat fires also created a high risk for firefighters because the acid sulphate soils produced sulphuric acid.

“Where the firefighters are working, we have to use breathing equipment,” he said.

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“The other risk associated with subterranean fires is firefighters falling through; they burn up to 600C.

“We had two firefighters fall through the surface. They received third degree burns to their hands and one of them to his foot; as he pulled it out, all the hot coals filled his boot.”

Mr Postma said, since that February fire, the City had identified areas with peat soils and written to landowners recommending ways they could reduce the risk of fires in their land.

He said they had thermal imaging cameras on a couple of fire trucks, which would help detect underground fires, and the DFES helicopter also had thermal imaging equipment to identify hot spots in peat fires.