Drivers told road safe, despite fire warning

Drivers told road safe, despite fire warning

2 January 2008

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Australia — Truck drivers and other road users wanting to get home would have pressed for the reopening of a West Australian road where three men died in a firestorm, fire authorities say.

The three men were killed when they were trapped in their trucks after a convoy of 15 vehicles was allowed through a section of the Great Eastern Highway between Coolgardie and Southern Cross on Sunday night.

A police coronial inquiry is investigating why the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), the lead agency handling the Boorabbin National Park bushfire, reopened the highway.

Drivers were told the road was safe, despite warnings from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) of an expected significant wind change in the area.

DEC Kalgoorlie incident controller Roger Armstrong said the decision to reopen the road would have been based on weather forecasts, fire modelling and information on the ground.

Mr Armstrong said on the day of the tragedy the highway had been closed for about six hours and a bank of trucks were waiting to get through.

“If you, your family (are) wanting to get home to Perth on that day, 42 degrees and you’ve been sitting there for six hours … there’s obviously going to be a fair bit of pressure from those people to move one way or other,” Mr Armstrong told the Fairfax Radio Network.

“So that would have been one of the issues.”

Police were interviewing DEC staff about the incident, and Mr Armstrong said the department was cooperating fully.

The three deceased men are Lewis Bedford, 60, and Rob Taylor, 46, from Two Rocks in Perth’s northern outskirts, and Trevor Murley, 53, from Hovea, east of the city.

Mr Bedford was reportedly the uncle of Charmaine Dragun, Network Ten’s Perth newsreader who fell to her death in November at The Gap in Sydney.

The DEC expects to have the Boorabbin fire, which has burned 29,000 hectares of land, contained by Thursday.

Mr Armstrong said with stable easterly winds predicted, the fire to the south and north of the highway should be largely contained by the end of today.

A decision on reopening the road would be made after the blaze was fully contained, he said.

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