Kinglake inferno has redefined ‘defensible’


BEFORE Black Saturday, the captain of the Kinglake CFA would have assessed Bald Spur Road as defensible against a bushfire, the Bushfires Royal Commission heard yesterday. The unprecedented severity of the fire that day had since changed his mind.
Paul Hendrie said, however, that in 30 years of volunteer fire-fighting he had never offered residents a fire-risk assessment of their homes or told them which strategy to adopt, because he was not qualified to do so.
He agreed it would be helpful if the CFA asked qualified people to offer such advice.
On Tuesday, Joan Davey told of losing her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren in Bald Spur Road, where 19 people are believed to have been killed.
She said her family had always planned to leave in the case of fire, but changed their minds after fireguard meetings, which gave them “a false confidence”. She said the CFA should have advised the family its home was indefensible.
Mr Hendrie said he had spoken at a fireguard meeting in Bald Spur Road last December. He said he routinely suggested residents consult a document called the Building and Wildlife Management Overlay, which helped residents identify their own fire risk.
He also said there would have been no point in sounding the CFA station’s siren because residents had not been told what to do if they heard it.
Meanwhile, Kinglake resident Shane Sparkes yesterday contacted The Age to say that what he had learned at the Bald Spur fireguard group had helped save the lives of himself, his wife and his two children.
While the rest of the house burned, they sheltered in a room where Mr Sparkes had backed the window with a cement sheet.
When the house was full of smoke, they fled outside. They knew to keep low under a wet woollen blanket and direct water from a hose on to themselves.
“The fire group … did instil confidence in us to survive a situation where we had no choice but to get through it, and if you have no confidence you can’t do it,” he said.

First published in The Age.