Premier defends bushfire policy

Premier defends bushfire policy

8 December 2006

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Australia — Victorian Premier Steve Bracks today defended a longstandingpolicy not to issue evacuation orders to residents at risk as bushfires rageacross the state.

Thousands of Victorians in townships and on properties in the state’s eastand northeast are preparing for potentially devastating bushfires over theweekend.

Mr Bracks, backed by Country Fire Authority (CFA) chief officer Russell Rees,said established advice – to either leave early or stay and fight the fire – wasthe safest.

Mr Bracks confirmed authorities would not issue evacuation orders.

“Our policy is right and it’s proved to be right over a long period oftime,” he said.

“We can defend people and assets by having people remain and fight thefire.

“Our information to date at this point in time is to stay and defend.”

Mr Bracks was joined by Mr Rees, police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixonand Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) chief fire officer EwanWaller to issue safety advice ahead of the weekend threat.

Mr Rees said there was clear evidence that those residents who stayed anddefended their property by extinguishing ember showers and by other measureswere successful.

As an example, he pointed to the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires which killed 75people around Australia, including firefighters and those who were were infirmedbecause of age, illness or drugs.

“The third group of people were those who got on the road late and drove,”Mr Rees said.

“If you are not able to look after yourself, leave early. Do not leavelate.

“The evidence is very clear and plain – late evacuation is deadly.”

Eighteen fires are currently burning across state forest and the AlpineNational Park in the north east and Gippsland region, blackening about150,000ha.

Almost 50 fires were ignited by lightning strikes earlier this week, but manyof them have now merged.

Authorities fear these will compound into a single monster blaze and befanned by strong winds forecast to turn northerly over the weekend.

Today, 2000 firefighters are being supported by 350 tankers, 88 bulldozersand 30 aircraft.

Mr Bracks compared the expected weekend threat to the 1939 Black Friday fires.

The fire front had the potential to extend 100km, he said.

Victorians have also been urged to keep clear of the affected areas,including the whole of the Alpine National Park.

Licola, Dargo, Woods Point, Whitfield, and Ross River should also be avoided.

Motorists in smoke-affected areas are warned to expect confusing, eerieconditions. They are urged to drive slowly and use their lights.

Prime Minister John Howard said Victoria get all the commonwealth help itneeded to deal with its bushfires, Prime Minister John Howard saidtoday.Victorian fire crews are racing against time, building control linesaround blazing bush in the state’s northeast and Gippsland ahead of forecastextreme weekend weather.

As the outbreaks continued to spread and merge overnight – with fears theythey could erupt into a super fire covering more than 600,000ha – residents havebeen warned to stay alert and be ready to evacuate.

“It’s very, very scary stuff and the terrible combination ofcircumstances – high temperature, low humidity, all of those things – are verybad indeed,” Mr Howard said on Southern Cross radio today.

“I just want people to know that any assistance Victoria needs it willget from the Commonwealth.”

Mr Howard said he rang Mr Bracks yesterday with the offer of help.

“I know that he is already getting some help from army units and he toldme he would be making a request for some further assistance and as soon asthat’s received we will respond,” Mr Howard said.

“I think we are all very concerned about the threat in Victoria over theweekend.”

Fire crews are racing against time building control lines around bushfiresGippsland ahead of forecast extreme weather this weekend.

About 18 fires are spreading across state forest and the Alpine National Parkin the north east and Gippsland region, with more than 150,000ha already burntout.

About 45 firefighters have arrived from New Zealand and will be sent to tothe state’s northeast later today.

The army has offered help, including fuel tankers to supply diesel for watertankers and bulldozers in the Mansfield-Whitfield region.

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