Grave risk to lives in coverage black spots

Sherwood fire-affected residents plead for better communication


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WARNING SIGNAL: Charlie Crozier, Narree Downs, Sherwood, says the lack of mobile phone coverage poses a huge risk to lives in emergencies.

WARNING SIGNAL: Charlie Crozier, Narree Downs, Sherwood, says the lack of mobile phone coverage poses a huge risk to lives in emergencies.

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Sherwood farmers say the weekend's fire is a wake up call on the need to improve mobile phone coverage in the bushfire prone area.

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Sherwood farmers say the weekend’s fire is a wake up call on the need to improve mobile phone coverage in the bushfire-prone area.

They also say the failure of emergency warning messages, especially the Alert SA app, could easily have resulted in loss of life on the catastrophic fire danger day.

The app, which the state government abandoned earlier this week, was a source of immense frustration for Charlie Crozier.

After hearing of the fire, he raced back from holidays at Port Willunga but was unable to get reliable bushfire updates.

“I just wanted to throw the phone out the window,” he said.

Mr Crozier said mobile phone black spots were not only impairing farmers’ ability to do business but putting lives at risk.

“We are just so lucky no lives have been lost but it is only a matter of time,” he said.

“I know we are not allowed to rely on our mobile phones but the UHF is only so good and the (CFS) pager when it goes off it is often ‘gobbledy gook’ and you don’t know where you are supposed to go. 

“We are only 18 or 20 kilometres out of Keith –  we are not out the back of Bourke.”

Steven Jaeschke, who also suffered significant losses, says the lack of mobile coverage makes delivering emergency messages very difficult.

‘We are in an area where we shouldn’t have to tolerate it,” he said.

“We live in a danger zone because we have this park (Ngarkat Conservation Park) – this is not an economics discussion, this is about safety and people’s lives.

“We do our due diligence but if there is a government system which is supposed to do its, it has to be faultless.”

Robyn Verrall, who had an anxious wait watching the fire come close to her property, was  also critical of the emergency warnings.

She received three text message warnings but says the one to evacuate was at least an hour after her window of opportunity to leave had closed.

“The landline kept ringing but that is often the first thing to go down in a fire,” she said.

Ms Verrall said reliable mobile phone coverage would have been a godsend to communicate with neighbours and her husband who was fighting the fire.

“In Australia where we are fire-prone, the least we should have is a communication system that is going to work,” she said. “Everyone was just really lucky there was no loss of life and because this is the holiday time a lot of families were away.”

During a visit to the fire area earlier this week, Emergency Services Minister Chris Picton thanked CFS volunteers for their work in hot and dangerous conditions, especially protecting assets such as a local abattoir.

“We are now in the recovery phase with the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources and the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion working in the area and the CFS and SAPOL preparing their reports,” he said.

“This is a very strong, resilient community and a number of the farmers have had great support from their mates cleaning up damage to their properties.”

He said the majority of the farmers were working through insurance claims but the government would help with any “specific needs.”  

Mr Picton acknowledged the “remoteness” of the Sherwood area did play a part in emergency.

“We do know that there are areas of our state that aren’t covered by mobile reception and that is a risk especially in a fire, so that’s why we ask people to factor that into their bushfire plans,” he said.

“If you are not in an area that has mobile phone reception, make sure that you leave early because you might not be able to receive those messages.”

Investigators have put the cause of the fire down to a faulty electric fence.

INTENSE HEAT: Four homes were destroyed in the Sherwood fire and 12,100 hectares burnt.

INTENSE HEAT: Four homes were destroyed in the Sherwood fire and 12,100 hectares burnt.

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