Cessnock Advertiser letters to the editor: February 5, 2020

Not one firefighter said climate change wasn't an issue

Cessnock Kurri Greens held a 'listening post' at Wollombi Markets on the Australia Day long weekend.

One thing was very clear - not one firefighter we spoke to said climate change wasn't an issue and many repeated what we've heard already in the media: "I've never seen anything like it before".

Residents and firefighters told us that many aspects of the Wollombi fire were managed well and many people expressed enormous gratitude to the firefighters.

Local brigades made a sterling effort in letting their communities know what to expect through town meetings. The Gospers Mountain fire was still 127km away when the first meeting was called. Even then, it was clear to local firies where it was headed.

These early warnings gave residents valuable time to prepare their homes for the onslaught. Removing rubbish, relocating wood heaps, raking leaves and bark. Some visitors even volunteered to assist with this process. It really has been a story of community co-operation.

The Wollombi Tavern became a Bushfire Information Point, where a computer was available for locals to look up bushfire information. The local community also organised their own information systems. "Neighbours near me" groups sprang up, exchanging information on who was evacuating, who was staying, or who needed help. Local "Black Ops" teams, well set up to manage their own fires, branched out to help neighbours save their homes.

There were, however, some issues which need to be resolved. There was a strong feeling reported to us, especially from the firefighters we spoke to, that more action needed to be taken on climate change.

By and large, firefighters don't want another enquiry - they want the recommendations of previous enquiries implemented. Particularly improved communication in hilly country, where line of sight radios don't work.

A new mobile tower might now be positively received, in light of the difficulties contacting emergency services after phone lines were burnt. Telstra came in for much criticism, with some local residents saying the Telstra call centre made promises that didn't eventuate, leaving residents unable to contact Triple 000.

There was also some frustration that helicopter water bombers weren't always deployed soon after fires started, when they were small. When the helicopters were used, they were amazingly effective.

We need to take immediate and urgent action on climate change now to halt this trend of worsening fire conditions. However, even with strong actions on climate change we will still have some bad fire years to get through before temperatures come back down. We owe it to our firefighters to resolve their communication and equipment issues now, before the focus shifts.

Janet Murray

Co-convenor, Cessnock Kurri Greens

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