‘CAUGHT BY SUR­PRISE’

Albany Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - Toby Hussey

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.”

Pic­ture: Brad Smith

An es­caped pre­scribed burn in the Torndirrup Na­tional Park south of Al­bany on May 24.

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