In the aftermath of the devastation of Yarloop last January, those involved in emergency response in WA were left shaking their heads amid public backlash. Warnings to residents of the historic town were said to be simply too late for any protective measure to be put in to place, which served as a contributing factor for much of the town being levelled, and two lives being lost.
As they sifted through the ashes, the reports came in that the system of fire safety awareness had broken down during this fast-moving and dangerous wildfire. Broadly, the reporting service had not made people aware of the incipient danger burning nearby, until it was well too late for protective measures to be taken.
In fairness, emergency response personnel tasked with coping with wildfires in WA face with an extremely difficult line of work. They must track the ever-changing course of a wildfire, taking in to account amounts of fuel, wind changes that will drive the fire, and the potentially endangered townships and people in the way. There are many variables that must be calmly weighed up, under circumstances of considerable duress.
However, a similar theme emerged as from the report in to the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in 2009: the importance of fuel reduction, across wide swathes of southwest Western Australia, in both public and privately-owned land. Efforts at fire dampening over the years had led to a large amount of brush and tree refuse in many areas, and these breed ever-larger and more destructive fires with every passing year that they stay there. Fire remediation techniques in WA must continue to evolve, and we are remiss if we don’t learn from every fire that burns here.