Victoria's most remote town and how it's preparing for bushfire season

The only road out of Mallacoota stretches about 25km. The Mallacoota Fire Brigade advises residents to leave extra early in the event of extreme bushfire.
The only road out of Mallacoota stretches about 25km. The Mallacoota Fire Brigade advises residents to leave extra early in the event of extreme bushfire.

In recent years Victoria's most remote township of Mallacoota has been declared by the CFA as an "Extreme Risk Fire Zone".

Surrounded by national park and with only one long corkscrew road in and out, how prepared is the town to face an imminent threat of a bushfire?

"You've got to understand we've got two fire trucks and over 1000 houses - you do the maths," says Mallacoota Fire Brigade lieutenant Les Carson at the town's fire station

Concerned residents, recent additions to Mallacoota's population of just over 1000 sit across the table, bushfire survival leaflets fanned out in front of them.

They've taken up the fire brigade's offer of opening up the station on weekdays during November in a bid to educate the community about fire safety.

"Survival" and "extreme" are just a couple of the many alarmist type words that are repeatedly being batted around while the wind whips chaotically round the tops of the surrounding gum trees.

Mallacoota and its surrounding national parks. The single road out runs around 25km to the Princes Hwy (top left). Google Maps

Mallacoota and its surrounding national parks. The single road out runs around 25km to the Princes Hwy (top left). Google Maps

Like most of Australia, bushland around the town is crisp dry.

"It's our third year with a below average rainfall, the fuel is building up - it's as dry as you can get it," declares Mallacoota Fire Brigade captain Rod Lewis.

Perhaps those words weren't so alarmist after all; maybe they're a matter of fact.

"We've got to prepare for the worst case scenario. If something goes off round here, people need to understand we won't be in a position to take them by the hand, they need to know the facts," he says.

Being more than 100km away from the nearest big town, landlocked, and Victoria's most remote location doesn't give Mallacoota a good profile on the resources or easy to get to lists.

Complacency is an epidemic. You're not always going to get a truck coming round to your house. People really need to work out their plans and know what to do.

Mallacoota Fire Brigade Captain Rod Lewis

"Air support could take a couple of days, especially if things are flaring up elsewhere," Captain Lewis says.

"We have to use the resources we've got and that would be stretching it. Complacency is an epidemic. You're not always going to get a truck coming round to your house. People really need to work out their plans and know what to do."

Even though precautionary measures such as back burning have been around Mallacoota for years, Captain Lewis says fuel reduction burns have been an ongoing issue, mainly because of Mallacoota's unpredictable weather changes and lack of resources.

Last year, second lieutenant of the brigade Lyn Harwood became a key driver in establishing the Mallacoota Township Bushfire Fuel Management Group.

The group consists of representatives from government agencies, emergency services and members from local community groups.

Together they have been creating and implementing a fire management plan which looks at protecting the township of Mallacoota, as well as taking into deep consideration the town's natural environment and the values of the people in the community.

 The result of mulching on Mallacoota's Zachary Drive. Photo supplied.

The result of mulching on Mallacoota's Zachary Drive. Photo supplied.

"We've looked into a whole range of issues as to why a town would burn, the risk factors, fuel loading, different prediction systems and bushfire attack levels," Ms Harwood says.

The group has been working together to map the township into zones and working out management strategies that best suits the individual areas.

"We've been looking into strategies such as hot burns, cool burns, pruning, weeding, mulching. These are all tools around us that can help drop the risk factor.

"We've discovered mulching is a great tool because it can be done at anytime of the year as opposed to burning, which is becoming more constrictive as our country dries out."

Even though the group's process is well underway, Ms Harwood believes right now the town is far from being out of the dark.

"Although it's looking positive, it's a long term process and any action could be two years down the track."

With a potentially catastrophic bushfire season looming, like the concerned residents at the station's morning session, she's worried.

"No we're not fine," she says

"But if communities and agencies can work together and come up with joint plans, then we have a reason to speak quite firmly with governments about how more money needs to be put into resources and risk management because at the moment it's just not happening."

For this fire season, Victoria's most remote town will remain with two fire trucks, 1000 houses, a handful of volunteers and likely quite a few concerned residents.

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