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Frances calls for help as fire season looms

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Chris Oldfield, Naracoorte Community News

A call for help has been issued by Frances Progress Association as the fire danger season looms.

The town has just one tank of fire water to protect its entire community.

There is no town water supply and no bore fitted with a pump and generator during a power outage.

A 4km strip of native vegetation runs from the Little Desert National Park straight into Frances.

If it was fuelling a fire, flames would hit the school first.

A previous bore, pump and tank have been decommissioned.

Frances Progress Association treasurer Kerryn Pilmore said on a catastrophic fire danger day “it will be quite scary”.

“We drove through Lucindale and Avenue shortly after the (January 11) fire and it really did raise our concerns,” she said.

The fire raced through native vegetation from an old overgrown railway corridor flanking the roadside.

The vegetation burned like a wick on a candle, straight into Lucindale where a lush green Field Days site helped fire fighters eventually contain it.

While there is a similar “wick” of native vegetation along an old overgrown railway corridor from Little Desert, there is no lush green field day site at Frances, or anything similar.

“The Blackford fire which destroyed properties and buildings at Avenue and Lucindale has prompted the association to look into what the town can do to be more prepared if there is a fire,” Mrs Pilmore said.

“We really need to raise some concerns about what could happen to our little town on a catastrophic fire day, especially one with hot north winds.

“We are only 4km from the Little Desert National Park, we have an old railway line and the old Bangham Road which are completely overgrown – that is a fire corridor.

“We are surrounded by dry cropping land.

“There is definitely nothing like a Jacky White’s drain, or centre pivots or a Field Days site between Little Desert and Frances, that’s for sure.”

Mrs Pilmore said she was uncertain whose responsibility it was to help reduce the fire risk at Frances, or to provide water.

“We do have a tank of water and a bore with a submersible pump, but one of the first things that happens during a fire is the power goes out,” she said.

“So that leaves us with no way to refill the tank or fill fire trucks.

“There is also quite a bit of ironstone to the north which seems to attract lightning.

“From around now until the end of January or so, many fires are started by dry lightning, particularly in the national park.”

Additionally, during late spring and summer farmers and contractors were operating a lot of agricultural machinery to windrow and harvest crops, as well as bale and cart hay and straw.

Mrs Pilmore said on hot windy days there was a higher risk of machinery accidently starting a fire as well.

“Perhaps a generator and another large tank would be really helpful to protect our town,” she said.

“There is a large overhead railway tank, bore and submersible pump in the Railway Yard which was initially used as a supply for CFS Tankers. 

“However, with a tank installed at the Recreation Reserve this was decommissioned and the power supply disconnected.

“Provided the overhead tank is still in safe condition, in an emergency a generator could possibly be connected to fill this tank as an alternative supply. 

“The relevant connections to fill the CFS tankers appear to be still operational.”

Meanwhile, most locals were cleaning up around their yards.

She praised some local Frances volunteers who were doing what they could to mow grass and reduce fuel loads around the town and slash along roadsides.

Mrs Pilmore thanked Naracoorte Lucindale Council for helping local volunteers with some mowing.

“However, there appears to be some confusion between council and the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure in regard to who is responsible for what,” Mrs Pilmore said.

“As a result, the Frances Railway Reserve which extends between the two-level railway crossings along the main road is half mowed and half overgrown.” 

Up to 10 dedicated volunteers run the Frances CFS fire truck.

Frances has a population of 152 in its immediate area and boasts a hotel, general store and sporting facilities as well as significant agricultural farming and service companies which provide employment.

Naracoorte Community News 17 November 2021

Naracoorte Lucindale Council CEO Trevor Smart has been asked for comment. No comment has been received before the deadline for press.

This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 17 November 2021.

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