Muddy info and procedures do not help evacuations

After the fire, Kara surveys her property at Tabulam. Photo: Contributed

Susanna Freymark

The fires that burned in October and early November were a dreadful reminder of the 2019 fires.

If not for the rains that came in early November and the efforts of the RFS, those fires could have become much worse.

Tabulam resident Kara was grateful for the people who turned up to her property on Plains Station Road on Tuesday, October 31 as the bushfire burned all around her.

“My friends helped save my house and horses and sheds,” she said.

“We evacuated other friends to mine as their house was surrounded by fire – only to have my paddocks go up after the fire jumped the road on the Ogilvie Drive side near the fire station.

“Everyone gave their everything to stop it from going up through the paddocks and into the bush behind me at the cutting but the winds were just too strong. I’m so grateful everyone is safe after this terrible day.”

This is the reality of fire and how quickly it can change lives.

Fire can force people from their homes, often in the middle of the night. And many times, the only place to go is to the closest evacuation centre.

During the Tabulam fires, some residents fled to Tabulam Hall, only to find their designated evac centre was closed.

At the Kyogle Council meeting on Monday, November 13, there was a discussion about how the evac centres work and who decides to open and close them.

Many people think the council is responsible for evac centres but it is the State Government.

Council infrastructure and assets officer Tony Lickiss said staff from Grafton came out to set up an evac centre at Tabulam Hall.

“Staff were leaving at 6.30pm,” Mr Lickiss said.

The problem was some residents including elderly people were sensing smoke at 2.30am on November 1.

The fire had flared up on the other side of Tabulam and we were worried about smoke, Mr Lickiss said.

But, it is not Kyogle Council that makes the decision to open or close an evac centre.

Firstly, the combat agency – RFS or SES – contacts the council and other authorities.

The Local Emergency Officer Controller makes a decision based on the emergency situation – this is usually a police officer.

The Local Emergency Management Officer– for Kyogle, that is Tony Lickiss – is contacted to see what centre is the most suitable for the emergency situation.

Family and Community Service staff are alerted and sent to the safest evac centre.

The Grafton staff were at the hall to open it as an evac centre at 2.30pm and more staff from Ballina came at 4pm.

“Because there were no presentations at all (nobody came to the centre), staff decided to close at 6.30pm,” Mr Lickiss said.

They left a number on the door – Mr Lickiss’s number.

“I received a phone call at 2am and I passed it onto FACS.”

The people who phoned ended up spending the night in their car at the Tabulam RFS shed.

The situation was not ideal.

Kyogle Council general manager Graham Kennett said the evacuation centre and responsibility for evacuees “sits squarely with the State Government”.

“We as a local government authority have suitable locations available,” he said.

“Our job is to make sure the halls (evac centres) are ready.”

The advice for evacuees is always family and friends first in terms of finding accommodation during an emergency, he said.

Again, that can be difficult in the middle of the night when escaping smoke.

If a fire has the possibility of threatening an evac centre, then people are advised to go to another, so in this case, it would have been Bonalbo.

This can be problem because of distance and the state of the road – especially in the middle of the night.

IndyNR has been closely watching as we report on multiple emergencies and it is clear that:

Evacuation procedures need to be looked at. There will be more bushfires and more floods. That means more evacuations and more evacuees.

The recent bushfires and those in 2019 plus the floods last year have shown that all agencies need to know what is required in emergency situations and how best to communicate with each other and the public.

Confusion is no help when a person is fleeing an emergency, so we all need more clarity on evacuation supports.

When a fire or flood is unfolding people need to know the safest routes and where to go to keep safe.

Bedding for evac centres was discussed at the Kyogle Council meeting.

Scroll to Top
Like an alert when we add a story? Yes please No thanks