Lessons to Learn – Illawarra’s Vulnerability in Bushfire Emergency

I would like to commend the Emergency Services for the bravery and professionalism which ensured not a single life was lost and many homes were saved in the recent disastrous bushfires in Tathra on the New South Wales Far South Coast. In light of this event I thought it important to raise some concerns with the Minister for Emergency Services regarding the vulnerability of the northern suburbs of the Illawarra if a similar event were to happen here.

There is always an opportunity to gain insight from events such as these to ensure that we can be prepared should such a disaster land on our doorstep. Some of the risks for the northern suburbs I have identified are similar to that of the coastal community of Tathra such as the close proximity of densely populated residential areas to the natural bushland of the Illawarra Escarpment. Weather patterns in summer have the potential to fan flames through the adjoining Illawarra Escarpment State Conversation Area, Dharawal National Park and Cataract Dam catchment area to the east over the escarpment to the coastal communities below, as was experienced in Tathra. Additionally, north of Thirroul there is only road out of the area. One thing that makes us significantly different to Tathra however is that this road is notorious for traffic congestion and is a single lane carriage way that in the case of an emergency has the potential to cause an overwhelming traffic situation limiting the access of emergency vehicles. Given the significantly larger population of the residents in the Illawarra’s northern suburbs than in Tathra the logistics of evacuating residents in such an event would present a significant challenge.

A number of bushfires along the escarpment and surrounds in previous years have shown some of our vulnerabilities to these disasters and I believe it is important to be on the front foot. I have asked that during the time of review of this horrible incident that the government also turn their attention to the specific characteristics of the Northern Suburbs of the Illawarra in terms of preparedness for a natural bushfire event.

We all have an obligation to learn from this tragedy and ensure collectively we are doing everything we can to protect our community.