Bushfire runner demands answers


Bushfire runner demands answers  

04 October 2011

published bywww.theaustralian.com.au


Australia — MICHAEL Hull believes that if the communications system during the disastrous Kimberley Ultramarathon had been working properly he and three other runners would probably not have been burned by a bushfire.
Mr Hull, from Tascott on the NSW central Coast, wants to know why the organisers, RacingThePlanet, did not contact all relevant authorities for bushfire information, as they had been told to do.

Mr Hull remembers how he and five others tried to escape the blaze by running up an embankment. As the fire started to overrun them, he made the snap decision to turn around and run through the fire front.

“It was just sheer determination to get through it. Obviously (I was) scared for my life, but I knew the harder I charged through it the less time I’d be in the fire and (the better my) chance of survival.”

Until now he has been focusing on his recovery, but as the burns to his legs and arms start to heal the 44-year-old has started asking questions about what went wrong during the 100km desert race on September 2.

Gyrocopter pilot John Storey has said he spotted the fire four hours before it overtook competitors in a gorge, but could not contact the race director or event volunteers on UHF radio. Staff at the event’s checkpoints had difficulty reaching each other.

“I don’t know what went wrong on that day or why it went wrong. It shouldn’t have. They should have been able to communicate,” Mr Hull said yesterday from Queensland, where he is resting with his family after being discharged from hospital.

“If they could have communicated, would that have prevented this from happening? The answer is probably yes.”

Mr Hull wants to know why the organisers did not contact the Fire and Emergency Services Authority for advice on up to 30 fires burning across the Kimberley that day, as the Department of Environment and Conservation had advised them to do.

“That’s a big issue on their behalf if they haven’t done that and they were told to,” he said. “It begs the question, ‘Why didn’t they do that? Was it negligence, was it an oversight or didn’t they feel it was needed?’ “

Event organisers have said they knew there were fires in the region, but had been advised they did not pose a risk. They have not said who provided that advice.

Mr Hull plans to call RacingThePlanet founder Mary Gadams for answers.

NSW mining engineer Turia Pitt, 24, and Victorian Kate Sanderson, 35, suffered burns to 80-90 per cent of their bodies. Both are in a serious but stable condition at hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne.

Martin Van Der Merwe, 56, who like Mr Hull received burns to 10-20 per cent of his body, has been discharged from Royal Perth Hospital.


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