Fight of our Life

Awareness of our challenges that may effect your community.

No one in Charge of Fire Safety

Here we are closer to the tenth anniversary of Black Saturday and we are told there have been positive changes put in place for Fire Safety.

It took that destruction and loss of life for a basic warning system to be sorted which included reconnecting the CFA station sirens that were disconnected when people complained that the noise was too loud when tested on Sunday mornings – To our family it was a noise of comfort that it was working.

We didn’t know it was disconnected before Black Saturday. Not even the CFA warning system was updated meaning lifesaving information was not passed on! It was only because my friend Joanne rang telling me there was a fire coming our way, that out of fear and instinct is why our family is here today.

Feb 7th 2009: We fled our home with our 13-month-old daughter with the roar of the fire behind us. She was crying in fear, so I sang her some Nursery rhymes to calm us both down. It was dark and thick with smoke, so the drive was slow; we returned some days later it was overwhelming it was like an atomic bomb had gone off.

People in Authority do get it wrong and mostly know there is a problem beforehand

Our Story

We live in Don Valley which is in the Upper Yarra Valley near Launching Place. Directly across the road from the main population centre are around 155 homes, mostly on no through roads, and a primary school.

Across the road lies Haining Farm. This is currently a 65ha dairy farm gifted to the Victorian People in 1974 to teach children about dairy farming. Parks Victoria have control of the land and have leased it to a tenant farmer for over 40 years.

This is now changing with DELWP/Parks Vic determined to plant out Haining farm with 315,000 trees and understory for the two Endangered Species the Lowland Leadbeater’s Possum and the Helmeted Honeyeater.

The Victorian Government committed to the establishment of the Yellingbo Conservation Area in 2014 and although a few options were presented, DELWP has pushed through their concept against the wishes of the local community.

The Yarra Valley community voted against this planting due to the Increased fuel on the Valley floor which, once planted, will be closer to homes and surrounding townships.

There hasn’t been a fire on the Valley floor in living memory, probably due to there being few large areas of bushland in that part of the valley. This has likely made the valley safer for the residents from a fire perspective.

The Minister Lily D’ Ambrosio has stated that: “the afforestation of Haining Farm would only go ahead if there was local support and there was no increase in fire risk to local community or surrounding towns”. However, this appears not to be the case: there is not local support, and there are risks to the community and surrounding towns.

It would be logical to assume that ‘increase in fire risk‘ would assess risk when:

  1. When a small fire starts at Haining Farm and becomes a big fire, then
  2. the effect on the houses across the road from Haining
  3.  the effect on surrounding towns
  4. the effect on the escape routes for the Yarra Valley

But that is not what has been assessed for change in risk:

“first attack suppression modelling was included to minimise the emphasis of small fires” (p. 38 link above)
A distinction is drawn between “landscape bushfire” and “township fires” and “landscape scale bushfire risk modelling does not explicitly incorporate township fires” (p. 19 link above)

This is only one example of how complicated DELWP have made it for the community to understand what they are actually doing and what it means for the fire risk in the area.

1. The community doesn’t want this

Local working group representatives did not support the concept approved, read Facts about the Haining Farm Redevelopment 2-2. It also shows that

91% of Don Valley residents were opposed to the planting out of Haining Farm in the local petition.

The outcome of the Engage Survey was predetermined from the start. Parks Vic were in charge of the survey. They expanded what was understood by the working group to be local consultation (see link above) when they saw that the vote wasn’t going in favour of their concept:

  • FOI documents shows Parks Vic tipped off interested parties, proponents of concept 3 of how the vote was going.
  • Their partners in the project Zoos Vic then reached out to their 255 000 supporters Australia-wide, asking them to vote for concept 3.
  • They only needed a tiny fraction, not even 1%, of their supporters to vote to drown out the voice of the Don Valley community. This tip off has resulted in the outcome we have now.

The whole Engage/Consult process with a matching set of flashy brochures was just to tick all the boxes. It ignored the concerns of the working group and the community, selectively reframing decision inputs to meet the minister’s directions.

An advert was placed in the local newspaper the Upper Yarra Mail page 4, 13 Feb 2018 by the Working Group members to make it public knowledge that they did not approve the final concept and believe it will increase the bushfire risk to the broader community.

Our Community calls on the secretary of DELWP to hold the department of planning to account: this series of flawed decisions made throughout the development process of Haining Farm must be investigated.

In an article in The Australian 25/6/18 Local MP Cindy McLeish said that:

there was no guarantee the reforestation would increase the populations of the possums and honeyeaters. She said the proposal went against the intentions of the Black Saturday royal commission, which imposed restrictions on new homes in bushfire-prone areas.

“Here there are existing houses and they’re almost building the bush to the houses,” she said. “I do have concerns that will increase the risk.”

What this means is, there is one set of rules for building new homes near the bush, but another for the department of planning who can plant closer to homes and townships increasing the fuel load hazard. It’s a situation which does not make sense no matter how many ‘risk mitigation’ measures they have factored in.

2. The concept choice not on the table

Good options were not considered such as retaining the site as a teaching farm. Haining Farm could be the next Collingwood Farm or Ceres in Brunswick. We are only 70 km from the CBD. This would be a safer option and one that was sadly never an option to vote on. Conservation of species is crucial, but the priority should lie in revitalising the existing habitat in Yellingbo, which has had over $20 million in funding and thirty years to get it right.

The problem is not lack of land for the species but mismanagement of existing land and funds, including lack of fire management and pest control. We need Conservation Groups, but they need to be held to account as well.

We have been told that Haining Farm is an insurance policy in case YCA burns, the existing habitat should be managed to reduce fire risk instead. I invite Zoos Victoria to consider my concerns and to present reasons why the existing larger habitat is not sufficient, why they need Haining farm.

3. Failure to assess risk on FFDI 50-99

According to the Haining Farm Bushfire Risk Analysis Report, the working group chose to assess risk only on FFDI 100 days. This decision was questioned by a CFA working group representative and community members they don’t describe it as having been a choice.

The Risk Assessment failed to assess risk on FFDI 50-99 code severe or extreme days. Those are the days where a fire at Haining Farm may become uncontrollable – when residents would be present and actively defending their property.

  • 30% of loss of life occurs below FFDI 100. Extreme days are increasing in number
  • The Haining Farm Bushfire Risk Assessment report states 0% increase in risk when they have not assessed 100% of the actual risk
  • I urge the department of Planning to assess change in risk for FFDI 50-99, and to offer reasons why this was omitted.

J.Leonard has stated in the CSIRO blog that :“Fires running with an FFDI higher than 50 cannot be safety suppressed by fire agencies in a forest . Fires under these circumstances represent over 90% of our life and house loss”

Lack of independent expert advice to oversee the process may have been a contributing factor leading to this failure to assess 100% of the change in risk.

  • The “independent” experts provided to guide the working group were the same experts who advised the DELWP risk assessment team, J Leonard and K Tolhurst.
  • The modelling used for the fire report is Phoenix Rapid Fire – designed by Kevin Tolhurst who we are told is an “Independent expert”.
  • Yes, they are highly regarded. But they are not independent. They have an ongoing involvement with DELWP.
  • Separate expert advice is crucial to ensure that the DELWP risk assessment team process has independent oversight.

The way DELWP chose inputs for their report which deliver them the Zero increase in risk they wanted must be investigated – by experts who are independent.

4. Risk Mitigation measures

The Fire report relies a lot on risk reduction measures to quantify the zero change in risk to the community. But there is no requirement to evidence that these measures are funded and will be maintained forever.

Before ‘risk mitigations’ are included in the quantification of risk to our community, DELWP should have proof of the likelihood that they will be maintained.

Parks Vic have acknowledged their track record of maintaining YCA has been poor. There is a long history of risk mitigation measures not being enacted in YCA. This history makes it difficult even impossible to trust various authorities to produce different results at Haining Farm. Funding announced recently does not change this history and is set at comparable levels to what YCA has had for their poor maintenance track record.

Evidence such as:

  • An article in The Australian 25/6/18 reported on the planting out of Haining Farm that: Local Yellingbo CFA captain Paul Spinks said there was already a shortfall in planned burns and funded bushfire mitigation measures.
  • Shortfalls in funding are not uncommon for YCA. In this article five years ago, CFA captain Paul Spinks states: “Good fire management is in the interests of all stakeholders but by under-resourcing such conservation reserves, community safety is compromised, and conservation goals fail”.

This history shows that we cannot trust that risk mitigation measures will be maintained on Haining Farm. Haining Farm will be a carbon copy of YCA however, this time it is closer to homes and townships.

A CFA Brochure states: The major bushfire risk to the township (of Yellingbo) is from fire in the Yellingbo Conservation Reserve.

I suspect once Haining Farm is “afforested” that the CFA will update the risk for Don Valley to: The major bushfire risk to the township (of Don Valley) is from the Yellingbo Conservation Reserve.

Even though the Fire Report tells us we have a zero increase in fire risk!

l don’t have a degree in Fire Ecology, however anyone that has experienced a Bushfire Fire would be terrified with 315,000 High Fuel trees/understory being planted closer to their homes. We are meant to feel safer with a proposed “Open Woodland” another “risk mitigation” measure.

But the reality is once a home catches fire from flying embers it is like a domino effect – homes became fuel as well. However, this time DELWP cannot easily press the suppression button on their computer system and just like magic the fire is contained – Zero Risk.

5. Fuel load changes as the forest grows

The fire report fails to account for the changing fuel load at Haining Farm as the forest grows. A young forest is kindling for a fire, yet there is no assessment of changes in the risk as the forest grows, which we are told Haining won’t be ready for over 20 years.

Or do they assume “risk migration measures” in their assessment such as sprinklers in the forest, a maintenance issue – can we trust that Parks Vic will maintain all of these with their track record at the YCA and Victoria-wide. They have not assessed risk for if the sprinklers fail or are not maintained or used.

6. Responses have increased my concern

1-DELWP’s own ” fire expert” Kevin Tolhurst has stated to me in an email that: an intense fire could occur on Haining farm … it would also contribute more embers downwind. This would be more of an issue for the areas west of Yarra Junction rather than Don Valley.

What this means is that there is a risk to a surrounding town, which goes against the statement of Minister D’Ambrosio.

2- CFA FOI shows concerns for surrounding towns especially Yarra Junction/Launching Place/Milners Hill & Gladysdale.

Haining Farm sits between the 3 major escape routes for the people, not only of Don Valley, but of the entire Upper Yarra Valley (around 15 thousand people) Warburton Hwy lies 400m to the South – the main exit for the valley (To Eastern suburbs).

A fire at Haining, whether it started there or was ignited by embers from further afield, could block these escape routes with potentially disastrous results.

3- Regional Director of Port Phillip Kelly Crosthwaite reply to my query of K. Tolhurst response above: “a fire within Haining farm would be contained by local firefighters relatively quickly”. DELWP must model risk for when a fire is not contained.

Australia has a long history of fires not being contained. Emergency services resources are for all Victorians not just for Haining Farm. Yet the assumption is that:

  • services will always be at hand, and that
  • the facilities they need will always be maintained, regardless that this is not done at YCA.

7. Wind Change

We highlighted the omission of the very important and common feature of “fire weather” in southern Australia – the afternoon wind change where the wind swings around from North/ North-westerly to South/South-westerly. In this situation “the built up” area of Don Valley would be directly impacted.

On Black Saturday Flowerdale, Kinglake West, Kinglake and other communities to the north of the fire’s initial path were destroyed. These Communities would have been spared the devastation but for the wind change.

Kelly Crosthwaite replied that: “The effect of the wind change is very significant, but the effect of revegetating Haining Farm did not change the already severe impact of the wind change”. How such a significant feature of fire weather does not rate a discussion in the risk assessment shows how “change of risk” has been drowned out.

8. Conclusion

I can’t think of anything more serious than protection of human life. It took twelve months for us to get a copy of the fire report and then we have no time to question it.

We need an independent expert – not one who is regularly engaged with DELWP, not one whose software they use – to communicate to us what the risk is in total: both “landscape” and “local” risk. Phoenix Simulator only has one part of the picture, not the total risk that we inhabit. Landscape level risk misrepresents the actual change in risk.

The risk model is not capable of quantifying the local risk, including the housing with one way streets across from Haining Farm, and the sensitivity of the location as central to the Yarra Valley escape routes. These local factors have not been included.

I feel anger and sadness having lived through what is at stake here: after the devastation of a bush fire there are suicides, depression, domestic violence, childhood trauma.

Take the emotional side away and you are left with a bunch of highly trained professionals that don’t question anything. The faith in fire simulators which have been described as ‘truth machines’ is frightening. The simulator results are only as good as the data that goes into it which has been highly selective and it doesn’t provide the whole picture: experience and local knowledge must be heard and included not ignored.

Sadly, l have lost confidence of the goodwill to increase the species when there has been individuals that have invested a lot time and care however without funding being directed to the right projects and failures being repeated time after time, we may see a further decline in both species.

So YCA is being rewarded for their failures. This needs to be talked about “yesterday”, but no one does. Conservation groups need to be held to account as well, as if not the project becomes how to secure more of the funding pie. Sorry this may seem harsh but over the past 3 years it has become apparent this is a big motivation to secure Haining Farm even with its fire risks.

We have brought up a small amount of a larger amount of problems with the fire report. This is a big issue that needs to be Investigated in depth and an urgent change in policy and culture to make it easier for all Victorian People to get answers to their Fire Safety.

As a mother of four – I have become a reluctant Activist demanding that our Government and Fire Authorities make Protection of human life an urgent priority.

Daniel Andrews our Community calls on you to Urgently STOP this before the bushfire threat to our community increases – with catastrophic consequences!

Haining Farm is due to be planted out spring 2018 even with unanswered questions over our Fire Safety.
Help us make Fire Safety a Priority in Victoria – Share this blog with friends and family and if you’ve got more time forward this blog to the emails below

With a simple message – STOP the planting of Haining Farm. We call for a URGENT independent investigation into DELWP’s Fire Report.

daniel.andrews@parliament.vic.gov.au

commissioner@emv.vic.gov.au. ( New Commissioner of Emergency Services )

lily.d’ambrosio@parliament.vic.gov.au

lee.miezis@delwp.vic.gov.au

james.merlino@parliament.vic.gov.au

This is alot to take in l know ! – By making this information public DELWP must be questioned on why they are NOT being transparent about the real risk to our community family and friends .l have stepped way outside my comfort zone to make this an Urgent issue that can not be ignored any longer as in 2 mins this blog will be live. We deserve answers to our safety now.
From our family to yours we dearly Thank you for taking an interest, with what is a very serious issue that can not be ignored any longer .

Bronwyn and Family