I rise today to speak on the recent Cherry Gardens and Clarendon bushfires and to recognise and thank the emergency services personnel for their continued contribution to keeping South Australia safe. Whilst I will not be passing comment or judgement on how the fires started, we are continually reminded of the extensive risks posed by extreme heat, strong winds and natural dry-wooded fuel load, which all combined to present catastrophic fire conditions. The undulating landscape and general topography of the Adelaide Hills region also presents challenges in reaching the front and is a natural catalyst supporting the spread of fires.
Temperatures exceeding well over 40º Celsius on Sunday 24 January and rapidly changing winds from north-easterly to south-westerly and then south-easterly, pushing the fire in different directions, combined to create uncertainty for communities as to its direction and its potential threat. Evidence of the fire was the enormous plume of smoke cloud rising into the sky, visible from a wide radius, and strong winds distributed ash throughout the Adelaide Hills communities as far as Mount Barker and Littlehampton.
We are constantly reminded of the horrific tragedy and destruction of fires with the anniversary of the Black Summer fires of 2019-20 in South Australia and indeed across all of Australia. Engaged in an attempt to manage the fire were over 400 CFS firefighters, over 80 fire trucks and appliances and eight aircraft, complemented by MFS fire units, crews from the Department for Environment and Water and private firefighting units. CFS crews from far and wide came and converged on the fire region. Also assisting were the SA Police, SA Ambulance Service, State Emergency Service and SA Water. The selfless commitment of these individuals, organisations and communities must be admired and respected.
Concurrently, Country Fire Service firefighters and fire units were tackling fires underway at Finniss and Tilley Swamp to the south and Gumeracha and Shea-Oak Log to the north. Hundreds of people evacuated from their homes and communities, and the impact on families in bushfire situations cannot be underestimated. Fear, anxiety and uncertainty create enormous stress on those families. Praise must also be provided to those residents and landowners who have developed and executed their well-structured bushfire plans.
With a perimeter of nearly 30 kilometres, this fire destroyed 2,700 hectares; 19 buildings, including two homes of families whose lives will be disrupted for some time; and numerous assets. This does not include the loss of livestock and animals in their natural habitat. Having claimed much of the Scott Creek Conservation Park and the Mount Bold Reservoir Reserve, the fire could have been much worse had it not been for the fast action of the highly skilled and coordinated team of firefighters and the good fortune of a favourable weather change. Approximately 60 homes were saved.
It was with quite some relief that we welcomed a significant change in weather that saw the arrival of rain on Monday. The ongoing downpour exceeded 30 millimetres, which eventually quelled the fire. It was a joy to witness some firefighters dancing in the rain on our news bulletins. Nonetheless, the risks remained and it still took time for firefighters to return and extinguish hotspots. It is ironic that those same rains created wet vegetation that by its very nature impeded firefighters’ efforts to back-burn, reduce the fuel load and establish fire containment measures.
This was a wonderful demonstration of the resilience of our communities, particularly in our regional areas, serviced by the CFS and their volunteers, the same volunteers and emergency services professionals who had the horrific experience of fighting fires during the Black Summer of 2019-20. They do not question at the time how these fires start, but accept it and exhibit their bravery and skill to bring the fires under control and ultimately extinguish them.
It is not just those on the frontline of the fires that we must acknowledge. Bushfires present a significant logistical exercise, and often forgotten are those community volunteers at bushfire last resort locations, where residents gather for their safety but are provided support and supplies.
The Alert SA app was also tested on this day, given the rapid ignition of the fire, its spread and its changing direction. While some concerns were raised about how responsive it was to initially alerting residents to the fire, based on my own personal feedback from friends living in the Adelaide Hills, it was a very effective tool in directing residents to monitor informative bulletins.
Whilst I am sure a proper diagnosis of the fire and how it was managed will be undertaken by the various authorities, and recovery teams are assessing the structural damage and loss of wildlife, I commend all involved in working tirelessly to contain and extinguish the fire to protect our community and demonstrate strength in adversity. We should ensure they receive the support that they deserve. In conclusion, our thoughts and prayers go out to our Western Australian neighbours currently battling severe fires in Wooroloo, just east of the Greater Perth area in that state.