CONFUSING emergency sirens are causing needless panic to residents in the Kinglake area, writes ALEX SAMPSON
Murrindindi Shire residents are fed up with the management of their fire-prone area, as confusing new sirens lead to panic and false evacuations.
On Friday, January 25, the CFA mailed pamphlets to Kinglake residents warning them of the activation of fire sirens the next day, Australia Day, and a community fire meeting on Sunday, January 27.
However, up to 50 per cent of residents didn't receive the letters until the following Tuesday, January 29.
Kinglake West postmaster Mohamad Melham said the pamphlets had not been sent from Shepparton until the Friday and many did not arrive until as late as Wednesday.
"Because they were sent in regular mail, there was no way they would have arrived in time for the weekend," Mr Melham said. "It was terrible."
Kinglake West resident Peter Bullock said he had neighbours who had unnecessarily evacuated their properties on several occasions after hearing the sirens because they were not properly informed about how to react.
"After what we've been through in this area, unless the council or CFA tells you otherwise, you hear a siren and react," he said.
A CFA spokeswoman said the pamphlets were available online, in the shopping centre and on public notice boards at least 10 days prior to the siren activation and meeting.
But the online document was also dated January 25 and locals said the town notice boards - which were allocated $48,000 in the Murrindindi bushfire recovery master plan - were blank.
Kinglake West-Pheasant Creek Action Group member Graham McErlain said the state of fire risk prevention in the area was ridiculous.
"Many residents don't have internet and might not have visited the shopping centre in that time, or even if they did it's hard to notice these things," he said.
"The siren sounds for 90 seconds to signal any incident - such as such as a fire, flood, storm or car accident - and signals for five minutes for a current emergency where residents must seek further information," he said.
"In the heat of the moment, 90 seconds might sound like five minutes, especially in the middle of the night or if you're passing through."
The siren scheme was announced in May last year and was activated in communities across January.
The activation of the sirens was part of a statewide pilot program involving 46 sirens in 39 locations.
Flowerdale resident and former mayor Lyn Gunter said her husband was on his way to pick her up from the airport on January 17 when an alert siren sounded and did not know whether to stay or go, unsure of what the siren was signalling.
"They're confusing and dangerous, and can cause panic, especially in an area like Kinglake where people jump at the mention of fire," she said.
"In other states one signal is intermittent and the other is constant, which is the way it was here 45 years ago.
"We are saying this to be constructive and direct change," she said.
"Because government should be taking the advice of people on the ground, not people sitting in Collins St who have no idea what's it's like to live here and look out your window and see charred trees."