I had a look at the new CFA warning video on the Warrandyte area yesterday. It is entitled ‘Don’t wait and see’ and does a good job of explaining why it would be terribly dangerous to try to leave Warrandyte at the last minute. Unfortunately, telling people what not to do is only half the message; the video then goes on to stress that if residents are not well prepared they should ‘leave early’. This is the same tired old message the authorities have been bleating since before Black Friday. It did not work then and it will not work now.
Why not? Because people do not know what leaving early really means. Or if they do know, they choose to ignore it.
For those who do not know, ‘leave early’ means leaving first thing in the morning of a day of high fire danger. Effectively this means packing up your children, your pets and your most precious possessions and going away for the whole day. On Code Red days [days considered to be as dangerous as Black Saturday] leaving early means leaving the night before if at all possible. Even with the patchy weather we’ve had recently, following this advice could see many families leaving home for at least 15 days over summer.
Where exactly is a mother with small children and pets in tow meant to go on these hot days? To friends and family? I imagine that the welcome would wear rather thin by the end of summer. So the reality is that most people do what they consider to be the sensible thing – they wait to see what happens. This is what happened on Black Saturday – despite the warnings before hand – and this is what will happen again when the next fire sweeps through Warrandyte.
I believe the authorities know full well what the reality is but choose to tip toe around the issue with videos that only tell half the story because making a genuine effort to change the other half is just too hard. They cannot force people to evacuate. They cannot force people to retrofit their homes with toughened glass or fire-resistant shutters or sprinkler systems. They cannot advocate for people to have bunkers installed. They cannot change the topography of Warrandyte and regulations forbid them from changing the vegetation. They cannot even find one, single refuge of last resort anywhere in the Warrandyte area. All they can do is cover themselves against liability and hope that most people will heed the warnings and leave.
I am normally a glass half full person but when I hear friends and neighbours saying that they plan to leave my heart sinks. They may plan to leave but whether they succeed is another matter.