Park risk

Deniliquin Pastoral Times - - FRONT PAGE - By ZOE MCMAUGH

The risk of a fire in the Mur­ray Val­ley Na­tional Park on Fri­day was so high that lo­cal au­thor­i­ties im­posed their own to­tal fire ban.

While the Mid Mur­ray Zone was not sub­ject to a for­mal to­tal fire ban — partly due to the low fuel load­ing in the more sig­nif­i­cant grass­land ar­eas — zone Su­per­in­ten­dent Tony White­horn said there was enough of a con­cern about the for­est ar­eas to put a fire re­sponse strat­egy into ac­tion on a ‘just in case’ ba­sis.

The de­ci­sion has again high­lighted con­cerns re­lat­ing to fire man­age­ment and con­trol in the Mur­ray Val­ley Na­tional Park, which re­placed the state for­est sys­tem on July 1, 2010.

Mid Mur­ray’s fire re­sponse de­ci­sion came just weeks after a cat­a­strophic fire in Queens­land, which the Prop­erty Rights Aus­tralia ad­vo­cacy groups sug­gests could have been less se­vere with ef­fec­tive man­age­ment of forested ar­eas.

At its peak there were more than 140 fires burn­ing across Queens­land, which con­sumed more than 500,000 hectares of land. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple were forced to evac­u­ate their homes.

‘‘Pre­mier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk and Deputy Jackie Trad failed to recog­nise lo­cal knowl­edge of landown­ers and fire­fight­ers, that while fire con­di­tions were bad, the in­ten­sity was caused by pre­ventable high fuel loads,’’ Prop­erty Rights Aus­tralia said last week.

‘‘It was pointed out that these high fuel loads were in many cases caused by poor govern­ment pol­icy.’’

Lo­cal tim­ber in­dus­try ad­vo­cates have ex­pressed the same con­cerns for the Mur­ray Val­ley Na­tional Park since its for­ma­tion in 2010 — over­rid­ing the Millewa and Moira State Forests — with spe­cific ref­er­ence to higher than nor­mal fuel load­ing due to re­stric­tions on tim­ber har­vest­ing in the parks.

Neigh­bor­ing land­holder Louise Burge said an­other area which needs im­prove­ment is com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which she said was high­lighted last week.

De­spite shar­ing a bound­ary fence with the Mur­ray Val­ley Na­tional Park and say­ing a fire in that area could re­sult in a ‘‘to­tal wipe out’’, Mrs Burge said she is un­aware of strate­gies re­lat­ing for fire fight­ing and con­trol in the Na­tional Park.

She said she was also un­aware of ef­forts put in place on Fri­day, which could have brought a lot of com­fort given the con­di­tions.

‘‘I would like to see com­mu­ni­ca­tion im­prove in a pos­i­tive way — per­haps in­for­ma­tion through in­for­mal land­holder, Na­tional Parks and Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice meet­ings at the start of each sea­son,’’ Mrs Burge said.

‘‘That way we would know what the strate­gies are and what the plan is if a fire was to start.

‘‘This re­gion (the Bul­latale) is fairly fire prone and de­pend­ing on which way the wind is go­ing a fire could be a to­tal wipe out — there’s no other way to de­scribe it.

‘‘There is a lot of dead tim­ber on the ground where we are, but it would have looked the same when it was a NSW for­est be­cause the Bul­latale area was not ac­tively logged.

‘‘The key to this area is early in­ter­ven­tion — we need to limit the risks as much as pos­si­ble and, in the event of a fire, take ev­ery ac­tion to limit the dan­ger to the for­est and the land­hold­ers.

‘‘If we had known Fri­day that a fire­bomber was on stand-by, we might have been a lit­tle more at ease.’’

With pre­dic­tions last week the tem­per­a­ture would reach 46°C on Fri­day Supt White­horn had a wa­ter­bomber and crew on ac­tive stand by at De­niliquin Air­port.

He also en­acted the in­ci­dent man­age­ment team to work around the clock un­til 7.30pm, to mon­i­tor and re­spond to any po­ten­tial fire risk.

Two strike teams had been formed to re­spond in an emer­gency.

Supt White­horn said while the weather posed sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns across the en­tire zone, the Mur­ray Val­ley Na­tional Park and the Per­ri­coota State For­est were par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing hot spots.

‘‘Be­cause we have low fuel loads in the grass­lands, we did not breach into to­tal fire ban but a small per­cent­age of land well and truly breached into to­ban — at ex­treme or cat­a­strophic lev­els,’’ Supt White­horn said.

‘‘There are high lev­els of fuel load­ing which varies sig­nif­i­cantly across the zone, but we iden­ti­fied some par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous spots in the Mur­ray Val­ley Na­tional Park and the Per­ri­coota State For­est.

‘‘In the forests we deal with a dif­fer­ent al­go­rithm — the fuel load­ing is dif­fer­ent, there are high tem­per­a­tures, high winds and low rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity.

‘‘The fire dan­ger in the Rive­rina was mainly grass­land, but here the risk was in the for­est, so we put out a warn­ing say­ing the for­est will be pretty nasty.

‘‘We were geared up if some­thing hap­pened and I was re­lieved noth­ing did, con­sid­er­ing the con­di­tions.’’

Supt White­horn said RFS, Na­tional Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice and Forestry NSW con­ducted pa­trols of the Mur­ray Val­ley Na­tional Park and Per­ri­coota State For­est in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a fire ig­nit­ing.

He said at Per­ri­coota, au­thor­i­ties were shocked to find a camp site fire be­ing used to cook a meal.

‘‘They were fined un­der the Forestry Act for hav­ing a solid fuel fire on a to­tal fire ban day, and the fire was ex­tin­guished.’’

Na­tional Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice area man­ager Tim O’Kelly was on leave and unavail­able for com­ment yes­ter­day.

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