Royal commission into Victoria bushfires begins

          Royal commission into Victoria bushfires begins

18 March 2009

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Australia — Farmers, hotel keepers, winegrowers and residents of communities in Victoria’s northeast have become the first to contribute to the royal commission into the state’s devastating bushfires.

More than 100 people came to Myrtleford today to take part in the first of 13 consultative sessions to be held around the state before formal hearings begin.

The fires affected all of those at the meeting in some way, claiming at least 210 lives across Victoria and destroying more than 2000 homes and other buildings.

Many at today’s meeting lost farm buildings, crops, equipment and fences in an area where two people died in the fires near Beechworth.

Commission chair Bernard Teague, a former Supreme Court judge, said today’s session would help identify the issues he would investigate, although he stressed it was not an evidence-gathering exercise.

Among those at the meeting, Sil Garoni and his wife Rosemary said they wanted to use the community consultation session to emphasise the importance of being prepared for the inevitable bushfires.

“There needs to be a lot of debate about forest management and issues like that,” Mr Garoni said.

“Roadsides have to be managed better, there needs to be more done to reduce vegetation in so many places.”

Cattle farmer Stuart Tooley from Rosewhite said he was left to defend his home and farm buildings virtually on his own because the Country Fire Authority couldn’t send fire crews.

He saved his home but lost valuable pasture and fencing.

“Communication was pretty average,” Mr Tooley said.

“I could hear them on the radio and there were no instructions, no one knew where we were or what was happening.”

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