CFA volunteers across the hills have expressed their fears over the high volume of tourists flocking to Mt Dandenong and parking “carelessly” over emergency entrances and blocking roads.
Sassafras Ferny Creek CFA secretary and volunteer Sarah Brown said “it is great tourists are coming again”, but believes “someone is going to get killed” the way things are going.
“We can’t get the trucks through in an emergency. They park with the back end of their car sticking out onto the street, they have a tendency to pull out in front of you because they see a parking spot on the other side so we have to slam on the breaks, they park on both sides of the road on bends outside Burnham Beeches so the fire truck can’t get through, there’s just not enough room,” she explained.
Ms Brown said the main areas of concern were the lack of parking in the main street of Sassafras and overcrowding at Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Burnham Beeches, The Piggery, King Henry’s and Mountain Highway. She also expressed concern over tourists parking on both sides of the road on tight bends in the area.
“If there is a fire down Mountain Highway we can’t get down there because of the traffic hold up with people parking and waiting for parking spots, they just stop on the side of the road waiting for someone to leave,” she said.
“In 1997, it took eight minutes to demolish 16 houses in Seabreeze Ave and took three lives. If we are at home and a siren goes off, it takes us six minutes for volunteers to drive to the station and gear up, so a crucial three or four minutes on the way to a job makes a massive difference as to whether we can save a house or whatever it may be,” she said.
Ms Brown said volunteers have been left so worried about lack of road access that they have been sitting at the station on high fire danger days, “just to save those extra four to six minutes”.
“Most of these volunteers are self-employed, they don’t get paid for sitting at the station for the day, they do it because they want to help protect the community, and lately they have been doing it more and more,” she said.
Members from Sassafras Ferny Creek CFA recently met with Streeton Ward councillor Cathrine Burnett-Wake to discuss the numerous challenges they face.
“It could be a matter of life or death if the CFA are not able to get to an incident because of access issues. I will work with the CFA, council and other agencies to address the issues that have been raised. It comes down to public and community safety, given we live in one of the most bushfire prone regions of the world, the CFA need clear access,” Cr Burnett-Wake said.
Ms Brown suggested that council impose more ‘no parking’ signs and “clean up areas around Sassafras to make more parking”.
“I have noticed there has been a rotation of council booking people but there are not enough ‘no standing’ signs around. We need something done about tourists double parking with their backsides poking out. As soon as they see a fire truck coming past they pull over and get their camera out, but haven’t pulled over enough for us to get through,” she said.
“In the main street of Sassafras there is an old building and what council should do is turn that into parking, it hasn’t been anything for 20 years. There’s at least 50 parking spots there they could sort out,” she suggested.
Upper Ferntree Gully Fire Brigade captain Peter Smith said the issue remains the same further around the mountain at popular parks, including the 1000 Steps.
“It’s not the parks fault. They park all over our fire exits, they even park at our fire station,” he said.
“Because the parks are so popular, the warmer weather comes and people start parking across peoples driveways, they park across access tracks. There are signs, but signs are for people that want to read,” he said.
Mr Smith said police and parking officers are booking hundreds of people each week, but says many “just wear the fine because they don’t lose any demerit points”.
“It’s disappointing. If anything does happen up there and we go back to 2009, if we had to get into the park like we did then, we wouldn’t be able to fight it or to assess it and get out. It just slows us down, we have to find another access point and they are very limited,” he said.
Mr Smith said “we are going through a La Nina now, which is a wet season, and the last one was in 1996”.
“Then, in 1997, because of the growth from the La Nina, we had the large bushfire that burnt through the National Park,” he said.
Senior Constable Ross Mitchell from Belgrave Police said traffic issues are particularly bad at the 1000 Steps and Olinda.
“People who traditionally would be overseas or interstate at this time of year aren’t and are being urged to do their tourism locally, and we are reaping the rewards of that. We desperately want our businesses to make money, but there often just isn’t enough infrastructure to accommodate that,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Our request is when residents see that there is a parking issue happening, they still call triple zero (000). That keeps us abreast of what is needed where,” he said.