Above: The Durras community bushfire meeting 25th February 2020 was held at the Sth Durras Hall
At a large community meeting held at South Durras Hall on Saturday 15 February 2020 (attended by approximately 150 local ratepayers, property owners and residents), the Durras community unanimously agreed on a list of actions which will be taken to all levels of government and a range of agencies and organizations for implementation as soon as possible to better protect South Durras from bushfire.
Dr Trevor Daly, the organizer and convenor of the meeting said ‘South Durras has been very lucky compared to other communities on the south coast in not having experienced direct loss of properties or life in the Black Summer bushfires. Our community feels for those nearby who have suffered lost loved ones and properties and we wish to extend our sympathies and support to them. While those on the south coast directly impacted must now focus on their recovery, the South Durras community feels we can help assist by focusing our attention on what can be done better in future for all south coast communities like ours. While Durras was spared this time, our village is still under significant risk from bushfire especially next summer”.
Key actions and demands agreed at the Durras community meeting included:
Upgrades are needed to local telecommunication infrastructure for mobile phone, landline and NBN, including installation of backup power via batteries and generators, so that telephone and internet communications are not lost during power outages.
A fireproof electricity supply network is to installed to service South Durras, North Durras and Depot Beach, comprised of either underground cables or new power poles made of concrete or other flame proof materials extending from the Princes Highway to South Durras village. Automatic isolation switches to be installed on the network so that when one area loses power other areas are not cut off unnecessarily.
Fire Trail Network
A network of fire trails is to be established around the entire perimeter of the private land of South Durras to allow unimpeded access for firefighting trucks from the local Rural Fire Service (RFS) brigade and other firefighting vehicles. The trails to be gated with keys held by the local RFS brigade and relevant land managers (e.g. National Parks and Wildlife staff - NPWS). The fire trails to be regularly maintained by the relevant land managers and the local RFS brigade with annual checks made prior to each summer bushfire season to ensure all trails are clear of fallen trees and vegetation which could impede vehicular access.
Buffer Zone around South Durras
A managed buffer zone is to be established around the entire perimeter of the private land in South Durras linked to the fire trail network. The width of the buffer and ongoing management of the area is to be based on expert advice on bushfire mitigation and property protection, with further consultation on the design and management of the buffer zone to be held with the local community. The buffer zone to managed by the relevant land managers (e.g. NPWS, Crowns Lands or Eurobodalla Shire Council -ESC) with assistance from the local RFS brigade and other Durras community volunteers (e.g. Landcare, community working bees).
Bushfire Hazard Reduction on Public Land
Bushfire hazard reduction works are to be undertaken on an annual basis (or more frequently if required) on all public land surrounding South Durras. The types of fuel reduction and bushfire mitigation actions undertaken are to be based on expert advice, and may include vegetation clearing, manual fuel removal (mulching, removal of green waste) and controlled burning or Aboriginal cultural burning. The bushfire hazard reduction actions are to be organized and carried out by the relevant land managers (e.g. NPWS, Crown Lands or ESC) with assistance of the local RFS brigade and other Durras community volunteers (e.g. Landcare, community working bees). An annual report on the bushfire hazard reduction works undertaken by each land manager around South Durras is to be provided to the Durras community.
Bushfire Hazard Reduction on Private Land
Private property owners in South Durras are to be permitted to undertake bushfire hazard reduction measures, including fuel reduction, on their properties to reduce the risk to their dwellings and other approved structures (and those of their neighbours) without interference or restrictions by any government agency (whether local, State or Federal). This includes the use of the 10/50 Rule for vegetation clearing on allproperties in South Durras (which have already been mapped by the NSW RFS as subject to either flame, radiant heat or ember attack). An immediate review of the 10/50 Rule should also be undertaken by the NSW Government to ensure consistency between vegetation clearing rules applying at State and local levels for bushfire risk areas (e.g. 10/50 vs Council zonings and tree preservation restrictions). There should also be consistency between the vegetation clearing rules and size of required Asset Protection Zones (APZs) applied to both newly constructed and existing dwellings.
Tax deductions for Bushfire Property Protection
Property owners in high bushfire risk areas such as South Durras should be allowed to claim tax deductions for the costs of installing bushfire protection equipment, such as firefighting pumps, roof sprinklers and metal gutter guards, generators, additional water tanks etc. These deductions should be allowed by the Commonwealth Government from 1 July 2020.
Other issues discussed and agreed on at the Durras meeting were the need for the local South Durras RFS brigade to be appropriately resourced (including with a waterborne firefighting capacity to fight fires on the edge of Durras Lake) and the brigade supported by more local community volunteers, and further education materials on preparing properties for bushfires to be provided to all property owners in South Durras.
Local State MP Andrew Constance and Eurobodalla Shire Mayor Liz Innes attended the meeting in Durras as observers to hear the Durras community’s views.
“During this year the Durras Community Association will holding meetings with Essential Energy, Telstra, NBN Co, Optus, NPWS, Eurobodalla Shire Council, NSW RFS, local MPs and any others required to makes sure these actions agreed by our community are acted on ASAP. We will also be sending these actions as a submission to both the NSW and Commonwealth Government inquiries into the bushfires”, said Dr. Daly.
“This community will not stand for any stonewalling, lame excuses or bureaucratic delays which endanger our lives and properties. If current laws, regulations, policies and zonings need to be changed to help better protect local regional communities like ours from future bushfires then they must be changed. "All Governments and agencies need to support local communities like ours and not get in the way of what needs to be done for public safety. Emergency preparation and response must be above politics and administrative nitpicking. This is about people’s lives and homes” said Dr Daly.