Bushfires and Emergency Services

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (16:13): As a proud member of the Country Fire Service, I am happy to support this motion supporting our emergency services, our volunteers and our community. I think 'community' is the word here because what happens when we have these disasters is that a whole community gets together. We have seen it whether it has been at Yorketown or whether it has been in the Mid North. We have had some fires in the Mallee as well, and obviously in recent times we have seen the ongoing fires in Queensland and New South Wales.

At lunchtime, I met up with a staffer's husband who had just got back from spending a bit of time at Armidale on deployment. He is just one of the people from this state who is serving the community. I talk about community in the broad sense because it is about people helping their fellow man or woman and getting on with the job, just as we saw on Wednesday last week.

It was forecast that it was going to be a terrible day on Wednesday 20 November 2019. We had the unprecedented calling of a catastrophic fire day the day before, which I think was a wise move that got everyone ready to go. I know that the services we have now are so much better than what we had in 1983 with Ash Wednesday. I just want to reflect on that fire briefly. That was a terrible course of events, with fires going up through the suburbs of Adelaide, basically, through the Hills and also in the South-East.

Sadly, too many people lost their lives. Some people had some miraculous tales of survival, especially with the memory of such a terrible fire. We have had terrible fires since then—do not get me wrong—but the firefighting facilities we have across the services, whether it is the Country Fire Service or the Metropolitan Fire Service and the assistance that the State Emergency Service gives as well, is so much better.

In regard to aerial water bombers, such as Aerotech and other planes that go up, we have so many more aerial firefighting planes ready to go up over an event. Years ago, I saw them fly into Ngarkat Conservation Park and all around the place. I have a very good friend who I used to shear with. He and his family got caught in one fire between Coomandook and Meningie. They were trapped in their home so they took refuge in the bathroom thinking, 'Let's see what happens.' The fire pretty well went over the top of the house, but at about the same time an aerial bomber dropped a load straight onto the house and saved them.

Some fantastic work has been and is being done in New South Wales and Queensland and in mopping up these other fires throughout South Australia. As I said, we have had some really big fires, but in the Mallee we have had some hay fires. Spontaneous combustion is a nasty beast. With spontaneous combustion, obviously hay might be bailed a little bit wet and up she goes.

The other night I had a sister and a brother ringing me when I was in Adelaide at a community awards night. They were saying, 'What's going on at Parkin Hall Road,' which is the road at the back of our farm at Coomandook. I said, 'Well, how do I know? I'm in Adelaide?' I said that I would find out, and I made a phone call to the farmer who leases my property. He said, 'I went past an hour ago and it was alright.' What had happened was that a pile of pig manure at the farm next door had spontaneously combusted. It is similar to hay fire: you have to pull it apart to try to get it out. One of the fires we had recently Angaston was a pile of horse manure that had lit up.

There can be all sorts of causes, including arson, and I must commend the police for what they do in keeping an eye out for arsonists. Where I live when I am in Adelaide for sitting weeks at my Mount Osmond property, they are quite often up those roads—Mount Osmond Road, heading towards Greenhill Road off the freeway. You will just come up there and see a police car parked there. I know exactly why they are there, and I think that is a fantastic service. They keep their eye out to keep the community safe because those gullies are where those fires will come the quickest.

Certainly, fire is a destructive beast, and I want to reflect on some of the incidents we have had. We have had 219 separate incidents responded to across the state. These are statistics from 19 November to 24 November. We have had rural fires, vehicle accidents and structure fires, 357 support responses and, obviously, multiple brigades attending the Yorketown incident. The recorded hours for some 576 turnouts is 33,312 hours, and these numbers will only grow as more reports come in from CFS brigades.

At the peak of the fire activity last Wednesday, the CFS had 600 personnel and 150 fire trucks committed across the state. As I have said—and I see that it was not unprecedented—on Wednesday the CFS Chief Officer took the unusual step of establishing a statewide fire ban to deter unsafe acts and behaviours. This had only been enacted a couple of times over the previous decade. Multiple media releases and warnings were sent out by the Country Fire Service during this period.

As was predicted—and thank you to the weather forecasters at the Bureau of Meteorology—on Wednesday 20 November the state experienced actual catastrophic fire weather conditions in almost half its districts, with all of the others showing as 'severe' or 'extreme' rated. Also, on that day the CFS responded to at least 69 fires, with large fires recorded at Price on Yorke Peninsula; Appila in the Mid North; Beaufort in the Mid North; Yorketown, which we are well aware of, on Yorke Peninsula in the seat of Narungga; Finniss on Fleurieu Peninsula; and Angaston in the Barossa, which was the fire that was spontaneous combustion from the heap of horse manure.

In regard to the fire at the bottom end of Yorke Peninsula, the Yorketown fire was the largest and most dangerous of these fires, with over 250 firefighters committed to it. Sadly, 11 homes were lost and there were significant stock losses. Over 400 were reported, which is a real tragedy for farmers who have to go around their stock, see stock that have been hurt and they have to put them down. At that time, they are concerned about not just the monetary loss but also the harm that has come to those animals because of this fire going through their properties. So it is a very, very sad time for property owners.

In this fire, as with all the others, there were volunteers, there were CFS staff and there were Metropolitan Fire Service staff, and they were supported across the board by their own colleagues and colleagues from the State Emergency Service. Government departments were involved in dealing with these fires, and the crews responding were supported by catering from local volunteers and the Salvation Army.

Again, this is where it gets to community. People who are not necessarily involved in community groups just turned up, and if they could not man a fire truck they would say, 'Can I help with some catering, or I can go and do something with the organisation to make sure that we can keep people out on the front line?' As I said, it is a whole community structure to help protect and save the community.

Obviously, there was a lot of aerial bombing with our own resources, and we had a bombing run, which I believe was a double bombing run by the large aerial tanker from New South Wales, and that was to protect the town of Coobowie. Fourteen aircraft were also deployed across the state. Even though we had some terrible losses with housing and livestock, in the main it was a successful joint response across the whole state, which resulted in a better outcome than might have been expected, with very few injuries and no human lives lost.

In regard to the Metropolitan Fire Service, they had an unprecedented number of structure and other fires that day, and they were well and truly prepared. Regional staff were stood up and on active stand-by in areas like Port Lincoln, Kapunda and Mount Barker. Additional communication staff were brought in. Metropolitan firefighters responded to five confirmed structure fires, with three requiring an increased alarm response due to the size of the fire, which included the MFS closing down South Road at Hilton for 90 minutes while firefighters put out a fire at a wine distribution centre, and there was a large waste/recycling fire at Wingfield.

There was also a large grassfire not far from Modbury Hospital and several other grassfires surrounding the city during the day. The Metropolitan Fire Service responded with two urban search and rescue teams to assist the CFS at Yorketown, with impact assessments to property impacted by fire. The Yorketown CFS fire incident commander requested that the assessment teams assess the area impacted by fire that extended from the eastern flank toward Edithburgh. They completed an additional 19 assessments in approximately 80 minutes, so they did great work. The MFS and CFS continue to provide staff and deployments to New South Wales.

The brigades that went to support Yorketown—and this shows the sense of community—included Aldinga Beach, Alford, Angaston, Ardrossan, Bridgewater, Burnside, Bute, Cherry Gardens, Concordia, Coromandel Valley, Crystal Brook, Cunliffe, Curramulka, Dalkeith, Freeling, Gladstone, Gumeracha Group, Hahndorf, Hamley Bridge, Happy Valley, Hay Flat, Hermitage, Hindmarsh Valley, Kangarilla and Lyndoch.

They also included Mawson operations support, Milang (from the seat of Hammond), Morphett Vale, Napperby, Northern Yorke Peninsula Group, Nuriootpa, One Tree Hill, Paracombe, Port Broughton, Port Victoria, Region 2 Operations, Roseworthy, Salisbury, Seaford, Sevenhill/ Penwortham, Shea-Oak Log, South Hummocks, Southern Yorke Peninsula Group and Spalding. That shows an amazing turnout of people supporting the community of Yorke Peninsula.

For other fires that we have had to deal with recently, the brigades deployed to New South Wales include Aldinga Beach, Andamooka, Angaston, Athelstone, Balaklava, Bridgewater, Brukunga, Cambrai (from the seat of Hammond), Cherry Gardens, Clarendon, Clayton (from the seat of Hammond), Concordia, Coromandel Valley, Dalkeith, Dublin, Eden Hills, Greenpatch, Gumeracha Group, Hamley Bridge, Happy Valley, Hindmarsh Valley, Jervois (from Hammond), Lincoln and Littlehampton.

Also deployed were brigades from Macclesfield, Morphett Vale, Naracoorte, Norton Summit/Ashton, Nuriootpa, Para Reserve, Paracombe, Peterborough, Pinnaroo (from Hammond), Port Broughton, Port Elliot, Region 3, Region 5, Region 1 Operations, Region 3 Operations (from my electorate of Hammond), Roseworthy, Roxby Downs, Seaford, Southern Yorke Peninsula Group, Strathalbyn, Swanport Group, Tailem Bend (from Hammond), Tea Tree Gully, Upper Sturt, Virginia, Williamstown, Willunga, Woodchester and Yankalilla. I commend all the actions of community members and emergency services workers right across the board and I commend the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Dr Harvey.

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