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.