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Alert SA bushfire warning app not ready as fire burns in Murraylands

By Stacey Lee and Eugene Boisvert, Thursday October 24, 2019 - 17:51 EDT
ABC image
The Alert SA app crashed during a weekend of catastrophic fire danger and a serious bushfire in January last year. - ABC

An app designed to alert South Australians about bushfires is still not ready as total fire bans were issued for many districts today amid sweltering temperatures.



Adelaide experienced its first taste of summer today, with temperatures reaching 36.6 degrees Celsius this afternoon.

A change is expected to come in overnight.

The State Government after it collapsed under heavy load during catastrophic fire conditions.

It ordered a new version of the program designed for smartphones soon after, originally saying it would be ready for the 2018–2019 fire season.

The app provided information about ongoing bushfires and fire bans.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Lee Odenwalder said Minister Corey Wingard needed to "explain exactly why this process has taken so long".

"We were promised this would be ready last fire season," Mr Odenwalder told ABC Radio Adelaide.

"The Minister will probably say they need to get it right, they need to do the testing, but this is exactly what he was saying 14 months ago, he was saying that in estimates last year.

"This year we find out it's going to be pushed forward to October and it's now reaching the end of October…

"It's nearly the end of October, this app hasn't materialised and we need to know why."



Other bushfire information sources available

In a statement, Mr Wingard said the app was still in the "testing phase" and would be ready for the bushfire season, which starts in most districts on November 1.

However, he told a press conference later in the day that a second attempt at designing an app had failed, and it was now working on a third option.

"We went down a path to look for a new provider, we worked with that provider," he said.

"When it came to user-acceptance testing, I wasn't happy with the result.

"We looked at the contingency and we decided to go with the contingency."

He said he hoped to have the new app would be "up and running by early December".

"That will be a tried, true and tested app," he said.

"We have to adapt it to our conditions and adapt it to South Australia. It's different geographically."

Country Fire Service (CFS) state duty commander Yvette Dowling said residents needed to rely on other sources like ABC Radio to get updates on fires.

"You've still got the CFS website and social media sites to get information on emergencies as required," she said.



Adelaide Hills councillor Leith Mudge, who also runs the Adelaide Hills Alert Facebook group, said the old app could not handle the traffic on high fire danger days when it was needed most.

"I've been pushing for a replacement to be created," he said.

"I actually wrote a letter to the Minister and got a reply saying it should be ready by this season [last year].

"I'm disappointed it's almost 18 months now without anything, basically."

Bad fire conditions ahead

CFS Sturt deputy group officer Chris Smith said the hot weather and dry vegetation reminded him of December rather than October.

"Although it looks like it's green out there, the fuel can still burn so in the woodlands areas there's still potential for a fire to burn quite fiercely," Mr Smith said.

"It's quite alarming, actually."

However, he said foothills residents had prepared well for the fire season by clearing undergrowth and rubbish.

"Probably the important things would be just to cease any risky activity [today] such as angle grinding or welding and that sort of extends to mowing and slashing — believe it or not, they can start fires — so use some caution there," Mr Smith said.

"Probably we've just got to be aware and vigilant of suspicious activity — so if people see somebody acting suspicious on the side of the road or whatever they can contact the police information line [131 444].

"And probably the important message we want get it out is people need to complete their five-minute bushfire plan — on paper and not in their head."

Fire burning in Murraylands

A watch and act message has been issued for a fire burning near Swan Reach in the state's Murraylands region.

The warning has been issued for Hunter Road and Leochels Road near Nildottie, 12 kilometres south-east of Swan Reach in the Murraylands.

The CFS said the fire was uncontrolled and burning in a south-easterly direction towards Leochels Road, but said conditions were continually changing.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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