Australia’s natural beauty is unlike any other. Our country’s varied landscapes and landforms have shaped Australian culture and identity. While we relish every moment we get to share this unique land with eager young people, we enter the summer season with caution. Although it is the perfect time for canoeing, surfing and stargazing, long periods of hot, dry weather also have a downside – the potential for bushfires. Our team across the country go to great lengths to ensure all our venues are prepared for bushfire season.
For us, preparing for bushfire season varies between each of our centre-based camps. Each venue is located in a unique bush setting which means differing concerns and infrastructure. But for each of our venues, precautions are ongoing and practised year-round. Similarly, a landowner like NSW Parks is busy leading into summer managing its forested areas for fuel loading around campsite areas and infrastructure.
At our own camps and facilities, vegetation and fuel removal are constant. Our Maintenance team continuously remove debris from gardens and grounds to a fire pile in a designated clear spot to be burnt during winter or in periods when there are no fire restrictions. Before lighting a pile, we will inform our local CFA, our Bylaws Officer at the local Council, and acquire the appropriate permits if required. We also notify these bodies and our own Risk team of the exact location, ignition time, and time of extinguishment.
Along with debris removal, we ensure building gutters are clear and clean and there are no leaves, bark or branches on our roofs.
A 6x4 fire fighting trailer is on standby at all times; this is periodically tested to ensure quick starting and smooth running.
REGULAR CHECKS AND TESTS
Throughout the year, all venue fire extinguishers and kitchen fire blankets are checked by CFA staff and verified as operational or swapped out with new ones; this also includes the extinguishers placed in our vehicles. Our team regularly tests the firefighting pumps servicing roof sprinklers, including all fire hydrants and hoses. In the lead-up and into bushfire season, hoses and firefighting equipment may be strategically placed at the ready.
Mowing and slashing of fire breaks around buildings is completed in spring, before the danger of causing sparks and thus starting a fire and typically done very early in the morning while the earth is still damp.
Our team continually assesses all entries and exits to and from buildings as well as all tracks into venues to ensure escape routes are free of obstacles, for example, fallen branches or trees.
GROUPS IN THE FIELDS
During bushfire season, all groups in the field receive daily communications from the Field Duty Manager, indicating the fire danger rating, any active or upcoming Total Fire Bans and fire activity in the area. If a fire occurs within 50km of a program, the Course Coordinator and the Field Duty Manager assess the need to adjust, relocate, or cease the program.
Alastair Mason, Maintenance Coordinator, says, “After spending a lot of time in 2009 on an excavator around our office at Eildon, Victoria, clearing trees and making mineral earth fire breaks, I realised that one has to assess the conditions as things happen and change, and all our preparation and groundwork supports us in that.”
We liaise with relevant state authorities and land managers to assess the bushfire risk in each venue we operate in. As we enter the official bushfire season each year, we share with our clients the fire risk in the areas they will have camps, our risk and program management plans and remind them of our policies.
The combination of looking after our own camps and the diligence of the landowners we work with for journey programs reduces the risk of bushfires to a host of programs running from November to March.