Bush­fire ex­per­tise gone up in smoke

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Western Opinion -

LESSONS from the past ap­pear to be lost on the bu­reau­crats scram­bling to cre­ate a new en­tity to deal with the forth­com­ing bush­fire sea­son.

Un­for­tu­nately, our state’s once in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed bush­fire preven­tion en­tity was dec­i­mated by bu­reau­cratic em­pire-build­ing.

The now-for­got­ten WA Bush­fires Board, led by Su­per­in­ten­dent John Rob­ley and field teams un­der the di­rec­tion of Dick Philips, de­vised and im­ple­mented a pre­scribed burn­ing pro­gram that kept the state, par­tic­u­larly most of the South-West, rel­a­tively free from bush­fire dis­as­ters.

A ma­jor fac­tor in its suc­cess was its abil­ity to co-or­di­nate and in­te­grate its op­er­a­tions with vol­un­teer bush­fire brigades who pro­vided lo­cal knowl­edge.

To spread their recipe for suc­cess, in 1977 it com­mis­sioned a film, North of Nutcracker, cov­er­ing the plan­ning and lo­gis­tics of a con­trolled burn in the Den­barker area.

This pro­duc­tion was so suc­cess­ful that copies of the film were pur­chased by most other bush­fire and for­est en­ti­ties through­out Aus­tralia to train their own troops.

The film was even re­quested by the United States De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s For­est Ser­vice, Fire Pro­tec­tion sec­tion.

As its rep­u­ta­tion grew, com­pet­ing lo­cal em­pire-build­ing bu­reau­crats seek­ing the ku­dos of the BFB re­sulted in Aus­tralia’s lead­ing bush­fire con­trol en­tity be­ing bro­ken up and ab­sorbed into a newly cre­ated de­part­ment, CALM.

This overly en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive de­part­ment had con­flict­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties which neutered the BFB’s pre­vi­ous ef­fec­tive­ness.

The con­trolled burn­ing was claimed to be detrimental to the flora and fauna, while grape-grow­ers in the South-West al­leged their crops were ru­ined by smoke.

In the metropoli­tan area, politi­cians ducked for cover when some res­i­dents com­plained their wash­ing was spoiled by smoke or res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems.

Our state’s bush­fire pro­tec­tion regime be­came a ca­su­alty of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, with loss of hu­man life and prop­erty at the bot­tom of the list of depart­men­tal con­cerns.

I can imag­ine the feel­ings of those in the orig­i­nal Bush­fires Board when the ex­per­tise now has to be im­ported as our gov­ern­ment goes cap in hand beg­ging for ex­ter­nal ex­per­tise and pay­ing for more ex­pen­sive re­ports. Daryl Bin­ning, Winthrop.

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