Communication breakdown

By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on November 16, 2017

THE City of Albany has refuted assertions by Torbay residents that they were not told about a prescribed burn that raged out of control and became a serious danger to homes and the heritage-listed Torbay Hall on Thursday.

The blaze was supposed to be a small prescribed burn near Lower Denmark Road, but quickly escaped the burn area.

Emergency services were called to douse the blaze.

The fire ripped through 40 hectares of bushland and stopped 50m short of the hall.

Chair of the Torbay Hall Management Committee Rosemary King said her property was within 1km of where the prescribed burn was arranged.

Ms King said she saw flames jump across Lower Denmark Road, and initiated a chain of phone calls to her neighbours when she saw the fire had raged out of control.

She is part of the city’s text message scheme that is meant to alert residents of any local emergencies.

But she said she did not receive a text message about the prescribed burn, nor about it burning out of control.

Vicki Read, a Torbay local for 15 years, said she also lived within 1km of the burn.

She evacuated her property soon after Ms King rang her with the emergency warning.

“It’s just such a lack of communication,” Ms Read said of the city’s alert process.

“It’s pretty much what we live with.

She said that about 12.30pm she was reassured the burn was okay.

“But I checked again at 1.30pm, and then at 2pm they pulled into my driveway saying the fire was out of control,” she said.

Ms Read said she was disappointed and shaken as a result of what she viewed as the city’s poor communication with Torbay residents.

She said it was lucky she had a bushfire plan that worked very well.

She said the only correspondence she received was a letter two-and-a- half years ago stating a prescribed burn was to be arranged for the bush surrounding the Torbay Hall.

City of Albany Acting Manager City Reserves Jacqui Freeman said nearby residents were informed of the burn.

“The appropriate consultation was undertaken,” she said.

“Residents at the other side of town might not have been notified because they were in a distance further away from the risk zone.

“We do advertising, put it on the Facebook page and we do letterbox drops and door-knocking to those residents who are close by.”

Ms Freeman said because the planned burn was small, consultation only occurred with property owners in the immediate vicinity.

“We’re pretty diligent in letting people know,” she said.

“What we do is we assess conditions, and if they are suitable, we can undertake the burn.”

She said the burn at Lower Denmark Road had been next on the list of priority burns slated to be undertaken in the area.

“We’re burning that area in preparation for burning some smaller patches closer to the townsite to protect the townsite,” she said.