Fire preparedness is sanctuary’s mission

Protecting more than 450 farm animals in a high fire risk area is a huge challenge.

Fire preparedness is sanctuary's mission

Video still courtesy Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary

A recent fire preparedness session at Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary has highlighted the importance of property owners having a fire plan – and practising it.

Edgar’s Mission is a 150-acre property in Lancefield in Central Victoria, currently home to more than 470 farm animals including cows, pigs, horses, sheep and goats.

Like any large property it’s not just the animals that need to be protected from fire. At any one time there are up to 20 staff and volunteers on the property, some who live on site.

The sanctuary is in a high fire risk area with open grasslands and bushland at its perimeter. The area has seen fire before – in 2015 a planned burn in Lancefield escaped containment lines in warm, windy weather, destroying four homes and more than 3,000 hectares of farmland and state forest.

Leading firefighter David Nightingale from Craigieburn Fire Brigade has been presenting on fire awareness and preparedness for six years. He spent time with staff and volunteers at the sanctuary to take them through their fire plan and teach them about fire behaviour and weather.

“Victoria is one of the most dangerous places in the world for fires,” David explains.

“Specific weather conditions mixed with very flammable native and introduced species of bush and grasslands pose a huge risk over our long dry summers to Victoria’s ever growing rural urban interface.

“If a fire does break out and impact the sanctuary, the team’s goal here is to keep people and animals as safe as possible as the fire passes through.

“The risks and impact time change dramatically based on the fire’s ignition point and whether it is a bush or grass fire.

“The hardest part for any landowner will be after a fire goes through – the recovery phase – when they need to manage any potential injuries, spot fires and hot spots.”

The sanctuary’s fire plan is triggered when the danger rating gets to Severe.

“The team at Edgar’s do an enormous amount of work throughout the year to keep the property fire ready,” David said.

“They have a well-constructed fire plan, firefighting equipment and a systematic way to manage their team and property before and after a fire – and most importantly they practise their fire plan.”

Edgar’s Mission founder Pam Ahern was focused more on any potential fire threat than aesthetics when selecting a property for the sanctuary, choosing the current location because its configuration allows for better defence in the event of a fire.

“Two fires have impacted Edgar’s in the past, and in 2014 the Mickleham fires got to within 500 metres, so we are keenly aware of the need to be fire safe,” Pam said.

“Black Saturday changed everything: anywhere you are, you can be impacted. We learned a lot from that – the importance of not only having a plan and practising it but having the equipment to support that plan.

“We have a fire plan with our people broken into an asset team and an animal team, and we maintain the property at fire ready standard all year around – slashing, removing fuel load, picking up manure, and keeping the property clean.

“We also have a storage of water, generators, easy access to fire safe paddocks and do daily head counts of the animals.”

David believes it is vital that people understand the weather conditions that are likely to impact fire behaviour in their local area.

“Our role as firefighters is to protect lives and property, and presentations like this help people become more resilient in preparing themselves and their property for fire,” David said.

“I encourage people to learn about fire and how weather influences fire behaviour, and above all: if you live, work or have property in a high fire risk area please prepare, please plan.”

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