Greg Hunt orders inquiry into Kakadu bushfire sparked by ‘controlled burn’

Greg Hunt orders inquiry into Kakadu bushfire sparked by ‘controlled burn’

09 October 2015

published byhttp://www.theguardian.com


Australia– The federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, has ordered an investigation into a week-long bushfire in Kakadu national park sparked after a mining company lost control of a controlled burn.

The bushfire which started on 1 October destroyed more than 200 square kilometres of bushland in the world heritage national park, and threatened a number ofculturally and historically significant sites.

Traditional owners blamed the operators of the Ranger uranium mine, ERA, for lighting a fire too late in the top end’s dry season and losing control of it. They said it was the second year it had happened, and accused ERA of negligence.

The mine is surrounded by the national park and a change in wind after the burn had ended reignited embers and carried them across containment lines, ERA said on Wednesday.

On Friday a spokeswoman for Hunt, said Parks Australia had been instructed to conduct a “full and thorough investigation into the cause of the fire”.

“This is a very serious matter,” she said in a statement to Guardian Australia.

“No permission was sought and no approval was received for the lighting of the fire by ERA. We will not hesitate to seek reimbursement for the costs of fire fighting if negligence or wrongdoing are in any way shown.”

ERA, majority owned by Rio Tinto, faces fines of up to $8.5m if it is found to have breached the environment protection and biodiversity conservation act.

Also on Friday, the Northern Land Council joined other Aboriginal and environmental groups in saying the fire had raised further concerns about ERA’s ability to rehabilitate the Ranger site when it finished mining uranium in 2021.

“ERA must bear full responsibility for the destruction caused by its negligence in conducting poorly planned and untimely back-burning last week,” NLC CEO, Joe Morrison, said in a statement.

“This is the second year in a row that ERA has created havoc in Kakadu with its damaging fire management practices. It is unacceptable. Last year traditional owners were promised new protocols and practices to prevent a recurrence. They have amounted to nothing.”

Morrison also called for the Australian government to reinstate traditional fire management practises across the park, delivered by Indigenous people to reduce harmful late dry season bushfires and higher greenhouse gas emissions.

“Kakadu’s 10-year average emissions are some 266,702 tonnes of CO2 every year, and the fires that produce them have crippling effects on local flora and fauna,” said Morrison.

Rowan Foley, general manager of the Aboriginal Carbon Fund, said carbon farming and incorporated traditional fire burning practises would create work for local Indigenous people and carbon credits for corporations.
 

“A return to traditional burning practice through a carbon farming model would see an appropriate pattern of fires throughout the region,” he said.

“Carbon farming would ensure vulnerable species and important sites are protected and that the risk of hot late dry season fire is much lower.”

ERA is conducting its own internal investigation, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

ERA told Guardian Australia they would cooperate fully with both the federal investigation and another being conducted by the NT department of mines and energy.

The spokeswoman said ERA was not required to seek approval or obtain a permit for a controlled burn on the mine land.

“On the day of the weed management activity, there was no fire ban in place for the area or the region in which the Ranger Mine is located,” she said.

“ERA followed its normal protocol to notify stakeholders prior to undertaking weed management.”

USAA members now can save money on their homeowners insurance premiums by living within the boundaries of a recognized Firewise Communities/USA® program. Currently, the discounts are available to eligible members in California, Colorado and Texas, three states prone to wildfire activity.

“Wildfire season is well underway, and we want to educate the public and our members on ways to prepare for a wildfire,” says Jim Salek, vice president of underwriting programs and loss prevention at USAA. “It is important that individual homeowners take action to reduce the risks of wildfires. However, this is a team effort, and an entire community can benefit when it gets behind fire prevention efforts. We hope the Firewise discount gives communities the incentive to take action.”

USAA was the first major national insurance provider to offer such discounts to members living in Firewise Communities and has teamed up with Firewise to determine if a home is located in a recognized community. The discount is then automatically applied to USAA members who live in that community*. The Firewise website has a list of the recognized communities and information on how to take action to get communities started on the recognition process.

While the program is currently limited, USAA intends to pursue this discount for its members living in other states with significant wildfire risks. As of June 30, the discount is automatically applied only to new homeowners policies and rental property insurance policies, for those who own and rent out property, issued or renewed in California, Colorado and Texas.

USAA also has expanded its direct efforts to help members threatened by an active wildfire. In 14 wildfire-prone states, USAA offers all eligible members enrollment in the Wildfire Response Program. The program, conducted with Wildfire Defense Systems, an association of professional wild land firefighters, attempts to help eligible members protect their homes in the event of an active wildfire. WDS monitors wildfire activity and, working with the onsite incident commander, takes proactive measures, when feasible, to help protect a member’s home, such as closing windows and doors, clearing debris and moving other flammable materials away from the home.

USAA offers other wildfire-related products and services to its members, including:

  • A property risk assessment tool on usaa.com, which allows members to input their address to see if their home is at risk for wildfire or storm surge and tells them how they can reduce the risk of damage.
  • WDSPro App, a free app that gives tips and advice on how to reduce wildfire risk and helps homeowners complete a property wildfire assessment in less than 20 minutes. On-screen directions cue users to take photos around the outside of their home to capture key information about their property and surroundings. The information and photos are submitted to a professional fire risk analyst for recommendations on how to better protect the home against wildfires.

– See more at: http://globenewswire.com/news-release/2015/10/06/773846/10151808/en/USAA-Offers-Insurance-Discounts-for-Living-in-Firewise-Communities.html#sthash.L60dHW41.dpuf


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