New Zealand / Australia — There are lessons to be learned from the handling of an Australian bushfire that trapped 11 New Zealand firefighters, injuring six of them, says New Zealand’s top rural firefighter.
A report into the circumstances of the fire trap, obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has revealed that bad management led to the Kiwi firefighters being caught in a wildfire flare-up near Mansfield, in northeast Victoria, on December 16, 2006.
The ABC said the report showed the firefighters were working on a steep slope with the blaze below them and unburned ground in between.
Athol Hodgson, a former chief fire officer of Australia’s Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands, said the crew should never have been sent into the area. “The people in charge of the situation knew the night before – in fact, they knew the day before – that the fire had crossed Steiners Rd. They knew there was unburned country below the road.”
Mr Hodgson said those managing the fire broke one of the most basic rules of firefighting.
“Firefighters around the world have died because they’ve been working uphill of an uncontrolled fire.”
But NZ national rural fire officer Murray Dudfield yesterday disputed Mr Hodgson’s findings.
“That’s his view. I don’t know whether it’s the view of the hosting agent over there.”
Mr Dudfield said the NZ Fire Service acknowledged that a number of factors led to the predicament the men found themselves in.
“There are lessons to be learned and we’ve taken them on board.”
The six injured firemen have since recovered and returned to normal duties.