The South Australian government has promised to carefully consider acoroner’s recommendations after an inquest into the 2005 Eyre Peninsulabushfires, which claimed nine lives.
Acting Premier Kevin Foley said an expert working party had been establishedto consider the coroner’s report which is critical of the Country Fire Service’shandling of the emergency.
The group will be headed by Commissioner of Fire and Emergencies David Placeand will analyse and advise on the coronial recommendations.
“At the time we reacted decisively and with strong commitmentimmediately after the fires and we will do the same now,” Mr Foley said.
After taking evidence for more than two years, deputy state coroner AnthonySchapel handed down his findings on the January, 2005 bushfires that burnt about80,000 hectares of land on the lower Eyre Peninsula and caused more than $100million in damage.
Mr Schapel was critical of the CFS handling of the fires including itsfailure to call in aerial water bombers to attack the blaze on the Monday,January 10 – the day before the fire crossed containment lines fuelled by dryvegetation, strong winds and high temperatures.
Mr Schapel said communications between CFS staff in Port Lincoln and thestate headquarters in Adelaide were inadequate, managers on the ground wereinexperienced and many public warnings were mistimed and not particularlyappropriate for the locations at which they were directed.
He said not enough pre-emptive steps were taken, including backburning andfire breaks, to battle the blaze that the CFS had twice wrongly declared as”controlled”.
“The fact of the matter was that no adequate measures were put in placeor attempted which meant that opportunities to alter the outcome were not taken,”Mr Schapel told a crowd of about 80 at the Port Lincoln racecourse.
“Because the risks to the public was never properly addressed orappreciated, none of those measures were ever adequately considered.
“For the same reason no adequate warning was given.”
Among his recommendations, Mr Schapel said the government should considerbuying an air crane firefighting helicopter and consider legislation to forcelandowners to create firebreaks on their properties.
He also called on the government to appoint a regional public warningsofficer to identify and deliver timely bushfire warnings.
CFS chief officer Euan Ferguson said his organisation would also carefullyconsider the recommendations.
But he said the findings also acknowledged that the CFS had improved itsoperations, procedures and preparedness since the Eyre Peninsula fires.