Every summer the population of Blairgowrie swells as hordes of holidaymakers travel to the sleepy coastal town, filling the foreshore with tents and caravans.
Although holidayers are a yearly feature of the area, it’s difficult to get fire safety messages to them, according to Steve Corrigan, a community development coordinator with Southern Metropolitan Region that stretches from Springvale to the Mornington Peninsula, Wonthaggi and Phillip Island across to areas that were scarred by Ash Wednesday including Upper Beaconsfield, Cockatoo and Gembrook.
“If you drive down around the Blairgowrie foreshore in summer you can’t move,” Steve says. “But we’ve had concerns in getting the message out there because for us Blairgowrie is about reaching both the local community and the holidaymakers.”
Getting messages out to the summer holidaymakers this year involved posters, fliers, emails and community noticeboards with information not just about bushfires but also about fire safety at campsites.
One of CFA’s strongest messages is to leave early on a Code Red day, Steve says.
“If there’s a bushfire then there’s a high risk of tents catching fire in an ember attack and there are only a few roads leading out of the town, which would be immediately blocked by people trying to leave if a fire broke out,” he says.
“It’s hard to gauge the take-up of information we give them. Basically we want to make people on holidays aware that they’re in a high-risk area and some of the things that they need to think about.”
Steve says that although Blairgowrie is on the 2009 list of the State’s 52 highest-risk towns, the nearby towns of Sorrento and Rye have a similar bushfire risk and a similar profile in terms of demographics, with many of the locals retired and a large summer population of holidaymakers.
“We have a local community that’s always wanted to know information, they want to know how to protect themselves when they read about fires in newspapers, but when the media coverage dies down they start becoming complacent all of a sudden,” he says.
“We used to have two or three Community Fire Guard groups in this area but over time they’ve disappeared due to lack of interest or ageing members, so they’re not keeping up to date with current information on ways to protect their properties.
“We were hoping to achieve 90 free Home Bushfire Advice Service property inspections but only did 63. Considering that they are in a high-risk area, the take-up of what we offer and attendance at Fire Ready meetings is pretty low.
“Late last year we went to the local Blairgowrie Action Group – a group of local residents – to talk about our concerns and asked for help with getting the word out to promote Fire Ready meetings through their networks in the community.”
The education trailer, which goes to events and markets in the region spreading fire safety messages from October to February, promoted the event at local shopping centres along with the local fire truck, brigade members and a sausage sizzle.
CFA saw one of the biggest turnouts they’d ever witnessed for the area with more than 150 locals turning up for a Fire Ready community meeting at the yacht club. Locals heard CFA and local police talk about what would happen on a Code Red day and explain Blairgowrie’s Township Protection Plan.
“The locals got behind it and gave the meeting a big push,” Steve says. “They had a lot of questions and there was a lot of discussion. Although the community has input into the TPPs, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a good understanding of it and although every home was sent a copy it still doesn’t mean they read them. It was a chance to talk to people about the document and what it really meant.
“We were very impressed with the turnout at the community meeting. It’s a big improvement on recent years and we’re hoping they take away the information that was given to them and build on it in the future.”