The impact of the devastating bush fires in Perth last week are beginning to be investigated by the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA).
The fires which began on February 6th have destroyed 71 homes and 39 homes have been seriously damaged. It is believed that sparks from an angle grinder being used out in the open by a local policeman called Robert Stevens was the original cause of the fire.
The local man has been charged with committing an activity which is likely to cause a fire; he could be handed fines of up to $25,000 or 12 months in jail at his hearing on March 15th. However, the local people of the areas Roleystone and Kelmscott have publicly forgiven Robert, acknowledging that anyone could have made the mistake.
There are other factors which have made the impact of the fires worse. A system break down came with the FESA admitting that it had only issued warnings to specific residents; warnings were sent through text message, email, fax and phone but those who did not have a mobile phone number connected to an address in the affected area were not included in these warnings. As a result, many citizens had to rely on local word of mouth and one man even posted a notification on Facebook to warn people. 17,000 bushfire alerts were sent out on Sunday at 2pm, roughly two hours after the fires started.
Local controls and bylaws have been criticised for allowing people to have trees too close to their houses, whilst this may provide shade, during a bush fire this makes the situation worse and limits emergency services from being able to get to the house easily.
However, an important element of the FESA investigation will be into how 50% of the homes which were destroyed were done so because of the evaporative air-conditioning units installed into some of the houses.
The air-conditioning units are known as dry filters; when embers get into them they can burn quickly through the roofs, causing fire to grow rapidly and making it impossible to save the home. Embers from the bushfire floating around were sucked into the systems and landed on extremely flammable filters.
It is believed that the FESA was previously working with the air-conditioning industry to create new units which use non-flammable materials and would enable people to put water on the filters when it wouldn’t be running, as during a fire alert people are encouraged to wet the filters in the air-conditioners with hoses or put metal covers over the units, but not to keep them running.
As part of the investigation, a Major Incident Review (MIR) will be taking place following a consultation between the Emergency Services Minister and the appointment by the FESA of the previous Chair of the Council of Australian Government (COAG) Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management.