‘CAUGHT BY SURPRISE’
A review into May’s devastating bushfires, some sparkled by prescribed burns, has recommended more cohesion between local and State authorities.
Proposals to end prescribed burns have been slammed as “foolhardy” in a major review into Albany’s devastating May bushfires, which recommended more — not less — planned burning to prevent future blazes.
The review into the May 21-25 fires, released Friday, came after months of preparation from the Office of Bushfire Management into the blazes which saw firefighters battle fires for days as flames scorched thousands of hectares.
During the May event, more than 50 fires flared across the Albany and Denmark region, with one fire at the Stirling Range National Park, an escaped prescribed burn, tearing through more than 18,000ha of bushland.
Included in the review were proposals to improve communication between emergency services, upgrade online information sources and work with landowners to reduce fuel on their land.
It said a 100-year record for dryness in the Great Southern region was a major contributor to the intensity and reach of the blaze, against which emergency services struggled to allocate resources due to conflicting data and uncertainty over reliability of information received.
It also blamed a lack of experienced firefighters available at the time, undeveloped relationships between crews and “an almost overwhelming increase in fuel loads” on properties for the time it took to extinguish the 106 fires.
Prescribed burning was thrown into the spotlight immediately after the blazes began, given six planned burns became bushfires in Manjimup, Albany, Denmark, and the Stirling Range.
In its defence of prescribed burns, the report claimed they were more important than ever, slamming proposals to scrap them as being “without exception seen as foolhardy and unreasonably costly”.
Only 7 per cent of bushfires start from prescribed burns, the report said.
“Recent tragic events involving bushfire in other Mediterranean climates demonstrate the ineffectiveness of allowing bushfire risk to escalate to unmanageable levels then expecting emergency services personnel, including volunteers, to put themselves at risk in attempting to control high intensity bushfires,” it said.
“The significant shortfalls, identified in this review, must be addressed through a significant increase in planned burning.”
However, the report did not shy away from blaming some landowners, whom it said were often found to be ignorant of the importance of regular burn-offs and whose prop- erty was increasingly vulnerable to fire.
It warned some residents had developed “an unrealistic reliance on emergency services to ‘take care’ of fire” and proposed working with landowners to reduce heavy fuels on their land.
It also recommended local governments be given a template to provide fire ban updates, for emergency services to undertake preseason training, the creation of an online register of private burns, improved local government and emergency service resource sharing and the preparation a bushfire advertising campaign for 2019.
Following the release of the report a Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said the organisation was looking at ways to manage burns in WA’s South West.
“While prescribed burning is not risk free, it is the most effective strategy in reducing the likelihood, size and severity of bushfires across the State,” they said.
“DBCA will continue to prioritise prescribed burning as a tool to manage fuel loads in a complex and challenging environment.”
An escaped prescribed burn in the Torndirrup National Park south of Albany on May 24.