Kymberly Martin

Bushfires come closer to home

With bushfires currently out of control across many parts of the country it is more important than ever for people to be prepared should their property come under threat, particularly for people with disabilities.

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ATSA adviser Chris Sparks, who lives near Tathra on the NSW South Coast, told F2L that while fires have raged around his property he was able to remain at home with all power and communications in place, but “our days turned into night.” (picture at 4pm). “However surrounding areas including Bermagui, south of Eden and Cobargo suffered major damage and lives were lost.”

Sparks said one of his concerns has been with evacuation centres and how they are handling people with more complex physical or psychosocial disabilities.

“I understand the Rural Fire Service has coordination and knowledge in dealing with these things so people with disability don’t fall through the gaps but it is a topic I want to discuss with local authorities once the situation has settled down.

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“What has come through is the resilience of the community. Our local state member Andrew Constance, who almost lost his house, has been bringing the community together making sure state resources are in place and pushing the Federal Government to act quickly.”

He continued: “These fires will have a massive impact for all coastal communities who rely on tourism. The Tathra beachfront caravan park, (pictured) is now a ghost town.  A Merimbula restaurant owner said his turnover was down more than 80 per cent compared to previous years and the Tathra bottle shop said business was down more than 40 per cent. Cost to businesses across the Bega Valley will be substantial so when the smoke settles, please come to visit!”

While early warning systems and public awareness campaigns are in place not all take into consideration people with disabilities. Even advice to leave early can be difficult. Many people with disabilities have to consider their day-to-day needs for equipment such as wheelchairs and ventilators. There are gaps in current approaches to warning people about bushfires, including information being unavailable in accessible formats and an assumption that people with disability do not live independently.

For a handy resource to help a person with disability during the fire season go to: https://northcott.com.au/how-to-support-a-person-with-disability-during-the-fire-season or click on Northcott’s article. 

A number of NDIA and partners in community offices are closed due to bushfires, air quality and weather conditions across NSW and Victoria:

New South Wales

  • Batemans Bay (Uniting)
  • Bega (Each)
  • Cooma (Uniting)
  • Merimbula (Uniting)
  • Moruya (Each)
  • Nowra (Lifestart Cooperative)

Victoria

  • Bairnsdale (NDIA)
  • Corryong (Latrobe Community Health Service)
  • Bright (Latrobe Community Health Service)
  • Mansfield (Latrobe Community Health Service)
  • Yackandandah (Latrobe Community Health Service)

We value your voice and invite readers with disability to share their experiences with the bushfires. We welcome responses from people of all ages. Please submit your stories to: [email protected]

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