City of Wanneroo volunteer firefighters prepare for heavy load in bushfire season

Wanneroo Central Bushfire Service firefighters Dani Vandermeulen, Chris Smith, Renny Gosatti and chief Paul Postma. Picture: Martin Kennealey.
Wanneroo Central Bushfire Service firefighters Dani Vandermeulen, Chris Smith, Renny Gosatti and chief Paul Postma. Picture: Martin Kennealey.

VOLUNTEER firefighters are being vigilant ahead of this bush fire season following a wet winter that has increased the fuel load.

Paul Postma has been Wanneroo’s chief bush fire control officer since April 2017, and in that role at the Shire of Gingin for five years prior to that.

Mr Postma oversees four local brigades – Wanneroo Central, Quinns Rocks, Two Rocks and Wanneroo Support – which collectively have about 220 volunteers.

The region also has career brigades in Wangara, Joondalup and Butler as well as Yanchep Volunteer Fire and Rescue and SES volunteers based in Joondalup and Two Rocks.

Last bush fire season, Wanneroo’s volunteer brigades attended 419 incidents, as well as responding to incidents in the City of Swan, shires or Chittering and Gingin, across the district and in Albany.

MORE: Wanneroo firefighters hope to avoid fire repeat

Mr Postma said so far this year, since July, they had attended about 50 incidents, including property fires, vehicle fires, bush fires and false alarms.

“Our volunteers do roster all year round,” he said.

“In the prohibited burning period we put more people and more appliances on roster.”

The prohibited burning period starts this Saturday, December 1 and Mr Postma said that meant all open flame burning was prohibited, including burning garden refuse, cooking fires and beach barbecues or bonfires.

“If people do burn garden refuse or have camp fires, if they are not properly extinguished, for a few days it has the potential for the wind to blow and restart fires,” he said.

He said bush fires could start in several ways, including when stolen vehicles were dumped and set alight, car crashes and discarded lit cigarette butts.

Mr Postma said although it felt like a wet winter, it had only been average compared to the past 30 years.

“It has given us additional fuel loads on the ground,” he said.

“The bush fire season coming has the potential of a higher than average bush fire season.

“As a result the volunteers are very vigilant and our recommendation is that the community remains highly vigilant as well.

“All we ask people to do when they see a bush fire, or any fire, and there are no firefighters, is call 000 and report it.”

If there is a bush fire in the area, DFES provides updates on the www.emergency.wa.gov.au and ABC radio does key emergency broadcasts.

To prepare for this bushfire season, Mr Postma said volunteer bush fire brigades had been doing prescribed burns on council reserves and private properties.

He said a private contractor had also been doing burns and they had done mitigation works, which involved physically removing fuel loads, creating firebreaks in plantations and national parks.

“DFES have been doing mitigation works on crown land,” he said.

“Parks and Wildlife have done huge amounts of prescribed burning.”

Mr Postma said the City issued fire break notices telling landowners the minimum requirements for firebreaks and building protection zones.

“One of the key things that they probably should do is have a bush fire plan,” he said.

The DFES website includes material to help people prepare for a fire if it happens, including when they would leave or how they would defend their property.

It asks people to think about when they will know to leave, where they will go and which way they will go.

“Indecision is probably the biggest threat – you might leave it too late to leave,” Mr Postma said.

“The key message there is if you have any doubt, your safest option is to leave early.

“If you plan to stay and defend your home, everyone needs to understand their roles and what it takes.

“Be aware that defending your property against a bush fire could be one of the most traumatic experiences of your life.”

Mr Postma said the DFES website showed which areas were most at risk of bush fires and about 70 to 75 per cent of the City of Wanneroo was identified as bush fire prone.

In the event of a bush fire, Mr Postma said people needed to consider alternative power and water supplies as main supplies could be cut off.

If travelling through a bush fire area, he said motorists should be mindful of firefighters working in the area, drive slowly with lights on and beep their horns occasionally if smoke affects visibility.

Mr Postma said total fire bans could come into effect if weather conditions were conducive to fire, including strong winds and high temperatures and make it difficult for firefighters to manage fires.

He said a ban could also be put in place there weren’t resources to deal with a fire, usually when crews were already dealing with other fires which may be in other parts of WA.