The vegetation and trees on the greenbelt along Bass Road in Betty’s Bay are now 5 metres high and close to the road. There are many properties with explosive growths of vegetation in the three villages – Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay and Rooiels – which constitute a very serious fire risk. Fire is endemic. It is also the biggest threat we face. The cost of damages caused by the next big fire will be disastrous.
Local authorities and various bodies have devoted much-appreciated effort to organising fire-prevention plans. However, localised fire-fighting groups, fantastic as they are, have limited effect. Only the municipality has the resources and capabilities to extinguish any serious fire. Preparing in advance by supporting the various bodies engaged in preparing fire plans will be an investment yielding supreme returns. Therefore these efforts must receive our full support. Any fire should be reported immediately.
Fire planning presents a serious challenge. Residents should be encouraged specifically to remove excess vegetation and to assist all efforts aimed at limiting fire loss. Many residents are seriously nervous and the existence of a comprehensive fire-fighting plan will go a long way in reassuring the community.
The fire plan should have an action checklist, with the primary objective of facilitating a very rapid response to any fire. Many procedures and protocols already exist. However, there is a need to link them all together so as to minimise any delays. In order to streamline the processes involved in extinguishing a blaze as fast as possible and minimising losses, it is essential to prepare an action plan in advance of a crisis. At present there is a sense of insufficient action! It is as if we are simply waiting for the next fire – to be dealt with as it happens.
The actions required include efficient communication with residents and access to information, such as which numbers they should call in case of an emergency. This information could be printed and widely distributed through various channels, such as the Betty’s Bay Ratepayers Association or Botanical Society newsletters, local retailers, security companies and other businesses, and public notice boards.
Those who have given thought to a fire plan should ensure that residents are able to obtain details, including of their emergency evacuation procedure. Maybe we can learn more by reviewing existing processes that are in place and asking questions such as how many fire engines are available; if there is justification for a dedicated Betty’s Bay fire engine and how it could be funded; if there is scope for mutual co-operation with other bodies regarding fire engines; or if there is any merit in a siren?
An instruction guide and a map could be circulated showing the location of the fire hydrants. Other questions that could be addressed include whether it is practical for residents to connect their own hoses to fire hydrants? Should couplings be available? Should hoses be available? Where?
Another important issue is the identification of a command centre, for eg. the Crassula Hall, and the designation of emergency parking areas, for eg. Bass lake, and helicopter landing areas. With regard to fire-fighting capacity, we have to ensure that volunteer firefighters have adequate equipment. How can the volunteers be augmented? Can members of the police be trained as emergency fire fighters? How can we as residents cooperate with the local authorities and provide support for the firefighters?
The Fire Department has already identified hotspots. Can residents assist in this regard by reporting areas such as the greenbelt between Bass and Reed Roads, the spider gum forest on the R44, and overgrown properties? Guidelines in fuel load reduction (which have already been listed by Tim Attwell) should be made widely available and the municipality must enforce existing regulations regarding overgrown properties. Residents need to be informed about the procedures and how they can obtain assistance from the municipality in transporting cut vegetation to the dump.
Basically, we need to prepare, in advance, for the certainty that the next devastating fire event is coming. Everything must run like clockwork. The community must embrace this combined effort in preparing for and fighting the next fire. Collective action is potent.