It is late morning on Australia Day 2017. Temperatures are already soaring in the Argyle-Irishtown area, a small country setting outside Donnybrook in the Lower South West region. Families and residents are preparing for barbeques, or retreating inside to escape the heat.
Just before 1pm, 000 call takers receive reports of a fire in bushland near Hurst Road and Gwindinup Road, north of Argyle.
Within twenty minutes, the fire, which is travelling south along Preston River, reaches the community. It tears through residential bushland at a rapid pace and is soon threatening homes.
However, despite the fire drawing dangerously close to several properties, no homes or lives are lost.
The successful outcome of the potentially devastating bushfire is testament to the hard work of the local community over the past two years.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Community Engagement Officer Steph de Bruin said the community expressed a keen desire to be more actively involved in planning and preparing for bushfires after a close call with the Irishtown fire in 2015.
“As a result we trained three facilitators in effective engagement and bushfire preparedness and supported them to set up Bushfire Ready Groups, working together with the Argyle-Irishtown Bushfire Brigade (BFB),” Steph said.
The groups have since worked tirelessly to inform and support the community in becoming better prepared to face bushfires.
Residents in the local area have participated in events such as street meets, property walks, planning and information sessions about how to prepare their properties and have expanded their neighbourhood phone tree to keep each other informed.
Long-time Argyle-Irishtown BFB member and Bushfire Ready Group facilitator Sandra Fussell has been one of the driving forces behind the group, alongside Jess Parker and Rae McPherson.
“After the major bushfire in 2015 people were very confused and scared, and felt that they didn’t know what to do,” Sandra said.
Fast forward to 2017. When the fire came close on Australia Day more residents in the local area had prepared their properties, had bushfire plans and knew what they were going to do.
“It’s about making everyone aware of bushfire risk, and about people taking responsibility for their own actions when a bushfire comes,” Sandra said.
“Everyone here has previously had a really close personal experience with a bushfire and so they all understand a lot more than they did before.
“People know that bushfire is not something that happens to another shire, it happens here – and it has happened here.”
Argyle-Irishtown BFB Captain Scott Rowe said the response from the community has been amazing.
“One of the best ways to be prepared is to have good links with your neighbours, and an understanding that you will contact each other in an emergency and keep each other safe.”
“It’s really about community involvement and the people of Argyle-Irishtown have been pro-active in getting themselves prepared and building those community networks,” he said.
DFES Deputy Commissioner Lloyd Bailey said local Bushfire Ready facilitators have been instrumental in helping the community prepare, however it is up to everyone to play their part.
“You need to take responsibility and ensure you and your family are prepared for bushfires, and are not putting yourselves in danger,” Deputy Commissioner Bailey said.
“That means preparing your property and having a bushfire plan in place so you know what to do.
“If you see smoke and flames act immediately – don’t wait for a warning.”
Visit EmergencyWA for information on how to prepare for and respond to bushfires.
Argyle-Irishtown BFB is a recipient of the Team Achievement Award in the 2017 Western Australia Firefighting Awards.