Country Fire Service

4th December 2019

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. E.S. Bourke: 

That this council— 

1. Congratulates the over 200 CFSS volunteers from across South Australia for coming together to support the Yorke Peninsula community by fighting the recent fires that broke out and destroyed pastoral lands, livestock and homes; 

2. Acknowledges the work of all community services, including the local police force, CFS and health services, in supporting individual families and the community to evacuate safely and in a timely manner; 

3. Calls on the Minister for Emergency Services to work with regional communities to increase the number of local CFS volunteers; 

4. Thanks all CFS volunteers for risking their lives to protect South Australians; and 

5. Wishes all Country Fire Service volunteers a safe fire danger season. 

(Continued from 27 November 2019.) 

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (17:28): I rise on behalf of government members in relation to this motion. In the first instance I move the amendment standing in my name as follows: 

Paragraph 3: 

After the words ‘Services to’ insert ‘continue to’ 

I will elaborate more on that later in this brief presentation. I rise to support the motion of the Hon. Ms Bourke and thank her for moving it. In many ways, words fail most of us in acknowledging the commitment of people who go out and fight fires in appalling conditions. It is worthwhile that we do just give a few moments in this place to that voluntary commitment. 

In the week of 19 November to 24 November, the South Australian Country Fire Service responded to 219 separate incidents across the state, including rural fires, vehicle accidents and structure fires. There were 357 support responses, which included responses in support of 209 incidents attended. An example of that is the multiple brigades that attended the Yorketown fire. 

The current recorded hours for these 576 turnouts are listed as 33,312 hours, and these numbers are likely to increase once reports are lodged by CFS brigades. At the peak of activity on Wednesday 20 November, the CFS had 600 personnel and 150 fire trucks committed across the state. On that day, the CFS responded to over 60 fires, with large fires recorded at Price on the northern Yorke Peninsula, Appila in the Mid North, Beaufort in the Mid North, Yorketown on southern Yorke Peninsula, Finniss on Fleurieu Peninsula and Angaston in the Barossa. 

The Yorketown fire was the largest and most dangerous of these, with over 250 firefighters committed to it. A total of 11 homes were destroyed and significant stock losses were reported. Volunteers, CFS staff and MFS staff were supported by their colleagues from the SES and other government departments in dealing with these fires. The crews’ responders were supported by catering from local volunteers and the Salvation Army. Many of the fires were attacked by aerial bombardment with the state’s own resources, with one bombing run from a large aerial tanker from New South Wales to protect the town of Coobowie. A total of 14 aircraft were deployed across the state. 

Despite the terrible loss of several homes and livestock, these outcomes demonstrate a successful joint response across the whole state that resulted in a better outcome than might have been expected, with few injuries and no human lives lost. I want to add that the response right across the community of Yorke Peninsula—all the volunteers in many capacities and the response from members of a range of government agencies, including certainly a number out of the Department of Human Services, and many others—I think was outstanding. 

In regard to the CFS in particular, I have a large list of the brigades that attended, but I am not going to read them all out. In summary, brigades from Aldinga Beach to Nuriootpa and from One Tree Hill and Shea-Oak Log to Seaford, and from many other places in between, attended the Yorketown fire. Of course, in doing so, they were all in unfamiliar territory. 

I have related in this place previously my vivid memories of fighting serious fires in unfamiliar territory in the Ash Wednesday fires of both 1980 and 1983, where as flat-country firefighters we were thrown up into the depths of the Adelaide Hills, where the different nature of the terrain and the conditions was striking. I have some very vivid memories of those events, even though they were many decades ago. I do give great credit to those who went, as I said, from places like Aldinga Beach, Seaford and the Barossa Valley, and many other places, across to southern Yorke Peninsula into an area that they were completely unfamiliar with. 

Just in conclusion, just to elaborate on the reason for my amendment, which is a minor amendment, and with great respect to the minister, paragraph 3 as it stands states: 

Calls on the Minister for Emergency Services to work with regional communities to increase the number of local CFS volunteers; 

My amendment, if it was successful, would amend the paragraph to say: calls on the minister ‘to continue’ to work with those regional communities. 

I am aware, through my own knowledge of his activity, of the significant amount of work the minister has done in supporting local CFS brigades and also in being out there in the community showing his support for the CFS and encouragement to members of the community to assist the CFS and in many cases to join up. I am aware of some people who could not physically go out and fight fires but have joined up to become the administrators back in the bases, on the public address and providing really strong communications support. 

But I do know that in his time as minister the Hon. Corey Wingard has visited 77 CFS stations and met with members of more than 100 brigades across South Australia. He has also obviously had many other members of parliament represent him on occasions. I have certainly done that myself. With those remarks I would again thank the honourable member for her motion and would seek the support of the council to just add those two words as indicated in my amendment.