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Students learn from regional fires


16 September 2003
Media alert: TV/photo opportunity on Thursday at 11am at the Fire Control Centre at Yorklea near Casino.

As 12 major fires burn on the Northern Rivers especially around Kyogle and Casino, Southern Cross University (SCU) is holding a three-day intensive fire study school from tomorrow to Friday, September 17-19 led by former State Forests fire management expert Ross Sigley.

The 15 students of SCU’s Fire Ecology and Management unit will get to see a real fire control room in action on Thursday when they go to the Fire Control Centre south of Casino, at Yorklea. The Fire Controller at present is head of the Rural Fire Service from Lismore, Ray Collier.

“The control centre is dealing with some major fire situations around the Kyogle area west of Casino, so students will be able to observe a fire control room in action,” said lecturer Ross Sigley, who worked for State Forests of NSW for 11 years

Mr Sigley said they were planning to do a controlled burn with the students to give them some hands-on experience, but the warm, dry, windy conditions were too dangerous.

After observing the experts in action on Thursday morning, the students will return to the University to do a fire simulation exercise that afternoon, controlling a ‘three day’ fire over the course of a few hours: invaluable for those who want to become fire controllers.

The Fire Ecology and Management study school is part of an external unit offered by the University through the School of Environmental Science and Management. The unit includes studies of fire ecology, the management of fires, fire fighting techniques, and issues related to hazzard reduction burning eg the impact on flora and fauna.

“We’ll also use videos and review some of the major bushfires in recent years and the fire fighting response, such as around Sydney and Canberra,” he said.

One of the real issues affecting fire fighting today was the falling number of professionals involved in fighting fires, with most fire fighters now being volunteers, Mr Sigley said.

“The volunteers are a very important and necessary part of fire fighting but they shouldn't be asked to carry so much of the load,” he said. “At the end of the day the government spends considerably more money on fire management by not having more permanent staff available to halt potentially dangerous fire situations before they start. More people permanently on the ground who know the terrain would save the government millions of dollars.”

Media contact: Sara Crowe or Kath Duncan, SCU Media Liaison, Ph: 02 6620 3144, or M: 0439 858 057.