Fire’s lessons learned

Homes scorched, and some spared, in the Mati fires.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Fire-fighters are in for a challenging summer, judging by recent devastating fires in Greece and the US, says Dandenong Senior Station Officer Daryl Owen.

On his return from assessing fire damage in Greece, Mr Owen says the Northern Hemisphere’s preceding fire season often hinted of what was to come in Australia.

The danger signs are even apparent in drought-stricken northern states, including winter bushfires in NSW.

“We get plenty of warning of what the summer is likely to be locally.

“Everything points towards (similar conditions). We’re asking residents in Victoria to prepare now.”

In Greece, Mr Owen witnessed the aftermath of a 1400-hectare fire in Mati on 23 July that travelled faster than many of the fires in Victoria on Black Saturday, 2009.

Like Black Saturday, the human toll was horrendous. Ninety-two civilians perished in the Mati blaze, with many properties incinerated.

“It is difficult talking to families and residents who have just lost everything in a bushfire,” Mr Owens said.

“Especially in Greece where the economy is not in good shape. It’s a tough time when they have to decide how to rebuild.”

The 15-day operation was Mr Owen’s first international mission, away from his wife and daughter.

“It was very similar to going interstate,” Mr Owen said.

“The emergency services were very welcoming of us, and welcoming of the assistance we could provide.”

He was part of an Australian disaster response team focused on rapid damage assessment.

Across the vast fire ground, the team assessed 6279 properties, looking for what buildings at risk of collapse, latent firespots and rescues.

Flying drones equipped by cameras were used for the task, despite being hindered by strong winds. They were still a key tool to comprehensively assess damaged properties, Mr Owen said.

The older concrete-made buildings generally withstood the fires, while newer timber and light-clad constructions were less hardy, Mr Owen said.

It was a tick for the tight building regulations in Victoria’s fire zones.

“The primary focus was to assist the Greek community, however the experience gained from such deployments can assist Victoria in learning from such disasters.”

Your first stop before buying a home. View the whole picture.