Two of WA’s most respected authorities on bushfire management say the State is in no better shape to defend towns from disaster since the far-reaching Keelty reports earlier this decade.
John Iffla, who was awarded an Emergency Services Medal in the 2014 Australia Day honours for co-ordinating volunteer groups’ responses to the reports, said the key recommendation of installing bushfire protection zones around towns had been ignored.
The criticism was echoed by Bushfire Front chairman Roger Underwood, a retired general manager of the former Department of Conservation and Land Management, who said WA had “gone backwards” since Dwellingup was destroyed in 1961.
Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty carried out painful examinations of fires that destroyed 71 homes in Kelmscott-Roleystone and 32 in the Margaret River region in 2011.
His reports triggered a wholesale restructure of WA’s emergency services, including turning the former fire and emergency services authority into a department controlled by a commissioner.
Mr Iffla said he spent thousands of hours co-ordinating a volunteers’ mitigation working group to implement bushfire protection zones, only for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet to baulk at the cost. “So to get this result is really upsetting,” he said.
“It’s not going to be a magic bullet but it’s going to make communities a damn sight safer.”
Mr Underwood said he couldn’t believe “in this day and age” WA had lost an entire township and key infrastructure such as Samson Brook bridge. “Since the Keelty reports, really nothing good has happened,” he said. “No progress, in fact I think things have got worse.
“Far too little attention on preparedness and far too much on suppression.”
Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said “everything possible” had been done to save homes.
“I reject that we just let people’s homes burn without doing our absolute very best,” Mr Francis said.
“You just can’t get on top of every single one of them straight away.”
Original article here
Trees wiped out from massive crown fires
Assessments in the large and very intense 1961 Dwellingup fire area showed 55% of large trees [over 0.9m girth] and 77% of smaller trees were killed in the crown fire area.
Typical aftermath of a crown fire in jarrah forest
For previously green burnt areas only 1% of large trees were killed, and 35% of small saplings
Fire chief backs fuel load claim
Battling the blaze: Firefighters in action near Northcliffe – DFES pic
11 February 2015 – The West Australian Daniel Mercer
WA’s top firefighter has taken a veiled swipe at the Department of Parks and Wildlife amid complaints that heavy fuel loads contributed to the severity of the blaze in Northcliffe last week [Feb 2015].
Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Wayne Gregson said yesterday he “entirely agreed” with suggestions that reduced fuel loads would have made it easier for firefighters.
On Monday, the captain of the Northcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, Rod Parkes, said budget cuts and a Perth-centric management approach exacerbated the situation.
Mr Gregson rejected assertions that bureaucracy was standing in the way of controlled burning while declining to be drawn on whether budget cuts were affecting the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s ability to do them.
But he agreed that reducing fuel loads was crucial to mitigating the threat of bushfires.
And in a backhander to DPAW, when asked about the agency’s repeated failure to hit its prescribed burning targets, Mr Gregson said only that they were “interesting questions”.
“My view is if you own the fuel, you own the risk,” Mr Gregson told ABC Radio. “The more you can reduce fuel load, the greater the chance you’ve got of stopping these fires.”
A spokesman said DPAW was committed to prescribed burning and would have liked to have conducted more around Northcliffe but plans were hampered by other fires and the need to accommodate new procedures.
He also pointed out that burning was complicated and had narrow weather windows in which it could be done safely.
The spokesman said the department would continue to work closely with DFES and volunteer fire brigades, noting there had been a high degree of co-operation in the most recent fires.
SES Volunteer Association spokesman John Iffla urged the State Government to implement “bushfire protection zones” around towns to mitigate the risks of major blazes.
Original article here
COMMENT: It’s time to start rethinking the disbanding of the old WA Forests Department , including the resumption of partial logging of hardwoods, in order to restore proper management of WA forests.
The sheer volume of area of forest burnt & wildlife being fried alive at the hottest time of the year, due to poor forest management, is near criminal.