POWER and phone lines should be underground so that essential services don’t fail during bushfires, according to a woman who was stranded in her burnt-out street for 24 hours after Black Saturday.
Vicki Law, of St Andrews, told the Bushfire Royal Commission that rebuilding must include underground placement of wires in areas that do not have mobile reception.
“Nobody knew we were alive till Sunday afternoon,” she later told The Age.
The media are banned from the commission’s community consultations.
Mrs Law and her husband sheltered with a neighbour after losing their home, sheds, garage, hens and cats, despite being prepared with two water pumps and a pool.
As with other communities, the failure of communications on the day was a strong theme. Mrs Law said the CFA internet site was telling her the fire was still in Wandin at the same time as her husband “began screaming at me to get inside because it was coming down the hill”.
Resident Quentin Addison argued that more spotter planes should have been in the sky tracking the fires’ speed and direction. Air coverage might have provided more up-to-date information to ABC radio, on which many relied, he said.
Angela Lake and Bruce Rodgerson said there should be an advice service with experts available to visit and assess homes for fire safety. Mr Rodgerson said CFA workers talked in general principles but were not permitted to advise on individual homes for fear of litigation if a house was later lost: “There should be indemnity for suitably qualified people to give fire-ready advice.”
David Baker-Gabb said fire-readiness in the bush had deteriorated because the Department of Sustainability and Environment had been “Jeffed” and its staff almost halved under the Kennett government. “The DSE removed from the field people who are sitting in offices now, or in rocking-chairs somewhere,” he said.
Mr Baker-Gabb said there needed to be more fuel reduction and much better maintenance of bush tracks.
Businessman Steve Roberston said he felt at the end of his tether. He saved his home but lost his shed, which contained $120,000 worth of uninsured phones and computers for his data services company.
He said a string of bureaucratic issues since the fires was preventing him from getting back on his feet. He had spent days burying dead wildlife and stock for absent neighbours, the coroner’s order stopped him clearing the wreckage on his block for weeks, and he cannot start using what government relief money he is entitled to because he cannot replace stock without somewhere to store it.
He said Melbourne Water had refused to help clean out his soot-filled dam, and he had been told he must pay $500 each for permits to rebuild his burnt-out shed and water tanks in exactly the same place.
“It’s never-ending. It’s just strangling me,” he said.First published in The Age.