Victoria to hold inquiry into bushfire management

Victoria to hold inquiry into bushfire management

3 March 2007

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Australia — The Victorian Government hasbowed to mounting criticism of the management of this year’s bushfire and agreedto hold a parliamentary inquiry into the fire effort.

It’s shaping up to be a debate as fiery as the forests were, because there’s noshortage of criticism of the way the blaze was managed.

Mountain cattlemen say there should’ve been more fuel reduction burns beforesummer hit.

And now a former fire chief officer says authorities simply failed to jump onthe fires when they first started.

From Melbourne, Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: It was the leader of the Victorian Nationals, Peter Ryan, who calledfor the inquiry.

PETER RYAN: What we want to know is what can be done to prevent these blastedfires happening on the scale that we’ve seen them.

JANE COWAN: The State Government’s fuel reduction program has been the focus ofmuch of the criticism of this year’s fire effort.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment only managed to burn 49,000 ofa planned 130,000 hectares of bush.

The Nationals’ Peter Ryan says there must be more preventive burns.

PETER RYAN: I mean, we are much, much better surely to have almost 2,000departmental personnel deployed up into the mountains to be having cold burnsand making sure that we’re able to burn a lot of the material at the right timeof the year, as opposed to sending all those people up there, under the pump, ina state of urgency, trying to put out the fires once the event happens.

DOUG TREASURE: You go into the bush in places now and it’s dead, there’s noteven a noise, not a bird, and that’s the problem, and it goes back to themanagement.

JANE COWAN: Doug Treasure is one of the mountain cattlemen who’ve beenwell-known critics of Victoria’s fire management.

He says it’s more than a campaign to get herds back into the high country, wheresome argue their grazing helps clear the undergrowth that can fuel fires.

DOUG TREASURE: Last winter it was too dry to do hazard reduction burning,according to the DSE (Department of Sustainability and Environment). So whathappens? Leave it till the summer and it burns.

Now, it might’ve been dry, I admit that, but in a dry time, that’s when youshould be burning in the winter, it does a hell of a lot less damage to theflora and the fauna in the winter than it will do in the summer.

JANE COWAN: It wasn’t always done this way, according to one former chief fireofficer.

Athol Hodgson saw out three fire seasons at the then Department of Conservation,Forests and Lands in the mid-80s.

ATHOL HODGSON: They’re still not putting out all the fires early enough. In fact,in this particular spate of fires some fires never ever had any human resourcessent to them on the ground, and that’s appalling.

JANE COWAN: Are you saying that in the past there would’ve been more of aneffort to put the fires out when they first started?

ATHOL HODGSON: Well, facts prove it.

JANE COWAN: Because the explanation that we’ve heard throughout the season fromthe authorities, is that the reason they can’t be attacked is because they’re inlocations that are too remote and too difficult?

ATHOL HODGSON: Well, that’s a lot of rubbish. Absolute rubbish. They are toodifficult simply because the access is not there any longer, and there are toofew people to go in there quickly.

Now, putting out fires when they are small is not a difficult thing to do.

JANE COWAN: The State Government wouldn’t comment on the inquiry until its termsof reference are announced.

But the Emergency Services Commissioner, Bruce Esplin, points to climate change.He says, worldwide, extreme weather conditions are to blame for more frequentand more intense fires.

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