OPINION

Pierces Creek fire is a wake up call for the bush capital

The Pierces Creek bushfire has come early in the season. It highlights the magnitude of the fire threat created by one of our driest Octobers on record.

The blaze is a dramatic wake-up call to the residents of the bush capital of the need for everybody to have a bushfire survival plan.

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While only small by the standards of the firestorm that enveloped almost 70 per cent of the ACT's pastures, pine plantations and nature parks leaving four people dead, another 490 injured and nearly 500 homes destroyed in January, 2003, it was sufficient to shroud the city in smoke on Friday afternoon and force the evacuation of horses and other livestock and some schoolchildren.

Although this is only early November, experienced fire fighters have said the conditions are very similar to those 15 years ago thanks to the combination of strong and gusty winds and high overnight temperatures.

Given this is likely to be just the first of many fires over what is expected to be a long and challenging summer, now is the time to check your home and surroundings to improve your chances of survival.

If you have never prepared a fire survival plan before go to the ESA website at www.esa.act.gov.au to download a very straightforward four-step process.

The ESA website is also the place to go during a fire emergency for up to the minute details on what is happening and what you should do.

There is also much every resident can do to cut down the risk of a fire spreading to their home.

These include trimming overhanging trees and shrubs away from the house, keeping lawns cut short and, if a fire is reported, removing door mats, stacked firewood, and flammable outdoor furniture.

Gutters should be cleared of debris and fallen leaves at the start of every fire season and you should have garden hoses at vantage points around the property.

The reason it is necessary to repeat this advice is that while many Canberrans learnt a hard lesson in fire survival they will never forget 15-years-ago, many others didn't.

When that fire hit the ACT's population was 323,000 people. It is now more than 400,000. Given the well-documented volatility of our workforce, there could be upwards of 100,000 people living here now who were not caught up in the firestorm.

As Canberrans we are fortunate to live in what has been aptly named "the bush capital". Few other major cities are so closely integrated into the natural environment. This offers unique lifestyle, exercise and relaxation opportunities you won't find in Melbourne or Sydney.

The price we pay is that this very proximity exposes us to the risk of bushfires, a threat that will only grow in coming years as a result of climate change.

It is up to each and every one of us to take responsibility for our safety and that of our families.

Make sure you know what to do in the event of an emergency and, when that moment comes, be prepared to act immediately.

Material possessions can always be replaced. The people we love cannot.