Gabriel Polychronis, The Advertiser - Published April 30, 2020 12:00am
One of SA’s worst bushfire seasons on record comes to an end tonight, with the state’s top country firefighter emotionally thanking the community for their support.
In an open letter to The Advertiser, CFS Chief Officer Mark Jones paid tribute to volunteers who “put their lives on the line” to protect local communities.
“Thanks must also go to the South Australian community who heeded our warning messages … and prepared their homes against bushfire threat,” he said. “To see the generosity to our firefighters, especially on Christmas Day, brought warmth to my heart.”
But the season was full of devastation, claiming three lives and collectively burning about 200,000ha of land.
Above the Cudlee Creek fireground. Picture: CFS
“Unfortunately, too many homes were lost with a total of 179 burned this season, many simply because of the ferocity of the fires,” Mr Jones wrote.
“The CFS bitterly regrets those losses and the tragic loss of three South Australians during the worst of the fire danger season.”
For much of the state, the 2019/20 fire danger season began several weeks early last October and November, due to dry conditions over winter.
It officially concludes at midnight tonight, finishing a horrific six months which first saw fires burn at Port Lincoln and Yorketown in November.
Devastating blazes then tore through Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island in December and January.
Sadly, famous bush pilot Dick Land and his son Clayton were killed on Kangaroo Island after Ron Selth lost his life in the Cudlee Creek bushfire.
“Those three lives lost to bushfires this year is three too many,” Mr Jones said.
CFS crews continue their hard work by helping manage the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CFS Chief Officer Mark Jones full letter:
The 2019/20 Fire Danger Season officially finishes at midnight tonight, finalising one of the busiest seasons in our history.
The CFS really started our season in September, more than a month before our own season officially started, as a horrendous start to the season in Queensland and New South Wales saw local crews stretched to their limits.
Over the next three months until after Christmas, CFS dedicated more than 1,300 volunteer firefighter and incident management personnel to help these two states battle unprecedented bushfires.
Unfortunately this was only the start of our efforts this season with our own fires burning in catastrophic conditions near Port Lincoln and Yorketown in November, followed by the large fires in Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island in December and January. These were only a handful of the thousands of fires our CFS volunteers attended throughout the fire season with large fires in every Region from Keilira in the South East, Coonalpyn, Miltalie on the Eyre Peninsula and unfortunately too many others to name.
I took up the role of Chief Officer in October last year and was very quickly impressed by the professionalism and commitment of our many volunteers. This year in particular they gave up so much of their time, put their lives on the line and worked so hard to not only protect their local communities but travel throughout South Australia and interstate to help others.
Thanks must also go to the South Australian community who heeded our warning messages at the beginning of the season and prepared their homes against bushfire threat. Unfortunately too many homes were lost with a total of 179 burned this season, many simply because of the ferocity of the fires. The CFS bitterly regrets those losses and the tragic loss of 3 South Australians during the worst of the Fire Danger Season.
The community also listened and acted when we issued warning messages. Those three lives lost to bushfires this year is three too many. However, I am thankful that we were able to provide timely and accurate warnings to the communities impacted so they could make safe decisions for themselves and their families.
Thank you also to the communities for supporting us and each other throughout the fires. To see the generosity to our firefighters, especially on Christmas Day brought warmth to the heart. Thank you to all of those who have since had bake sales, fundraisers or simply donated to the CFS Foundation. That money will go towards supporting our volunteers in their time of need.
I also want to thank CFS staff and our supporting agencies, SA Metropolitan Fire Services, SA State Emergency Service, Department for Environment and Water, SAPOL and all other organisations who contributed.
The ability for those staff to get on with the job and provide results is testament to their abilities. At the moment we are continuing to help South Australians by being embedded in the State Command Centre for Health, managing the COVID-19 pandemic in this State. Only days after the request came through, our teams were at SA Health to support them as they faced a health emergency of unknown scale and duration. We knew anything we could do to support them as the control agency had to be a good thing.
Of course the work does not end here. Our volunteers continue to attend structure fires, hazardous material incident, road crashes and to assist other agencies, as their work continues.
I thank them for their amazing efforts and urge the community to continue to practice fire safety as we move into the winter months, and be careful on our roads.
I dearly hope that more normal times will resume once the Coronavirus crisis has passed but South Australians can be assured that its Firefighters remain ready and available to answer calls for help whatever the challenges we face.
– Mark Jones,
SA Country Fire Service
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