WALKERS are endangering lives - their own and potential rescuers' — by blatantly ignoring warnings not to enter the 1000 Steps trail on fire-danger days , safety authorities say.
Total fire bans have twice triggered closure of the Kokoda Memorial Track car park in the past fortnight but walkers are continuing to defy the closure and park along Mt Dandenong Tourist Road to reach the trail.
But users say there needs to be more information, or they will continue to ignore the closure and enter the park.
Parks Victoria Dandenong Ranges acting ranger-in-charge Michelle Doherty said the park closure was based on fire danger, wind speed and staff availability for emergency evacuations.
The entrance to the track off Burwood Highway is closed by Parks Victoria but people still park along Mt Dandenong Tourist Road and enter via the exit.
Sergeant Andrew Herdman of Olinda police said his station constantly got requests from Parks Victoria, SES, CFA and Ambulance Victoria to monitor that area.
Acting Sergeant Warren Lechner of Rowville police said walkers were risking their lives. "On a high-fire-danger day, if you're caught at the top of hill and a fire starts at the bottom, it's going to go straight up that hill."
But many of the walkers the Weekly spoke to last week said they didn't feel in any danger at the parkland. One, who didn't want to be named, said she exercised there regularly and felt safe because of emergency markers that lined the track.
Authorities warn that hundreds of vehicles parked along the Tourist Road made it hard for emergency vehicles to access the area.
The CFA's eastern metropolitan community safety manager Tammy Garrett said she and other CFA members were shocked by the attitudes of trail users.
The CFA held a blitz at the 1000 Steps recently to warn people of the dangers of entering the park on a total fire ban day.
"Many of them just said, 'It's our life'. They don't realise if something happens during their climb, they're putting the lives of volunteers and emergency services workers at risk," Ms Garrett said. "It now has to be a targeted approach to make ourselves a visual presence and have one-on-one chats. Just two minutes of their time can make an impact."
She said another hazard of "people making their own car parking arrangements" along Mt Dandenong Tourist Road was that it made it difficult for volunteers to estimate how many people were in the park if a fire broke out.
Sergeant Herdman called the issue one of his priorities. He said officers often booked motorists for parking illegally along the road.
Ms Doherty refused to comment about whether there were better ways to enforce or inform users about the closure.
The Weekly spoke to people using the 1000 Steps on a total fire ban day last week:
Maddy and Elise, 18: We were quick on the Steps today and we watched out for danger. We didn’t know they were closed beforehand. If we heard a siren, we would know what to do.
Natasha, 23: I only saw the signs when I got here. I wouldn’t think to check the Parks Victoria website before I come because I am here all the time.
Ashley, 20: I was only concerned about making it to the top [laughs]. But they definitely need more signage, particularly at the main entrance where the trail begins.
Ian (from Scotland): If there was trouble up there everyone would fall as they started to panic and it’s a long way down to the bottom.
Terry: They need a ranger or somebody at the main entrance telling people why the park has been closed, then I wouldn’t go up there.
Anonymous: I am a regular user and I knew it would be closed but I feel safe.
Information about park closures is available at parks.vic.gov.au or by calling 13 19 63.
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