Seeds of disaster

YVONNE BARRON is a North Fremantle resident. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED she describes her shock at finding out her riverfront home has been ‘upgraded’ to the highest bushfire risk zone, and says it could have been avoided.

THE river banks from the old sugar works site down to the Stirling Bridge offer many shaded picnic and bathing spots, and are well-used by our community.

We are lucky to be able to enjoy being close to nature while spending time with family and friends.

I see all kinds of use of these areas: from swimming and quiet contemplation to lively barbecues on the shore, and noisy boat parties anchored close to the cliffs.

All these uses represent the enjoyment of life to be had at different ages and stages of our lives.

I take pleasure in witnessing all this, but I also worry that a barbecue held under overhanging branches, or a stray cigarette butt, could start a blaze that endangers lives and homes.

On Tuesday (December 3), I thought that moment had arrived when I heard there was a fire on the shore at Mosman Park.

Fortunately, that fire was extinguished before damage was done.

It must have been heart-stopping for those living close by, given the extreme heat of the day.

When we bought our block nearly 20 years ago, the cliffs were vegetated with low shrubs, but also quite bare in places.

To my knowledge, this was the natural state of the area, with no previous efforts made to either clear or plant out the slopes. However, as the blocks atop the cliffs were developed, government-funded groups began a planting program to increase the vegetation along the cliffs.

The reasons for this planting program are unclear to me – whether it was for aesthetic, engineering or urban-greening reasons, I’m not sure.

Sadly, it is now apparent that the species selected were inappropriate.

Where there once were clumping, resilient, low-lying bushes, there are now towering canopies of gums reaching up from the bottom to the top.

When we built our house there was no requirement for a Bushfire Attack Level rating to be obtained, as our area was by no means considered vulnerable to bushfire.

However, when we applied for approval to make a change to our house about three years ago, we were horrified to be informed that we are now living in a ‘Flame Zone’.

This is the highest bushfire risk that an area can be assessed at.

Anybody who builds a new home in this area is required to build to the most stringent requirements to mitigate the risk.

Those of us who built over the past two decades find ourselves in a vulnerable position, with no government bodies willing to take responsibility for reducing the risk, as this would involve removing some vegetation – a politically unpopular idea.

A couple of weeks ago some council workers tidied up parts of the walk path along the North Fremantle cliff tops.

We watched them dispose of dead vegetation by simply tossing it over the cliff, where it now adds to the tinder waiting for a spark.

We asked them not to do this, but were told that this was what they had been instructed to do.

It’s very frustrating to have witnessed this developing hazard over the years, and to have been dismissed as simply ‘protecting my view’ or being a habitual complainer when I (and others) have approached government bodies with these concerns.

I agree with greening our urban spaces, but species should have been selected that were appropriate to the area and existing land use.

I’d like to see our community having a discussion about the reality of this situation, and what can be done to undo the mistakes the past, while still maintaining our green areas.

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