Australia — Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) is again under attack for its response to the February firestorm, with a CFA volunteer saying people had died after his pleas for fire trucks were rebuffed.
Wayne Simmons, a volunteer lieutenant at Traralgon South, accused high-ranking fire brigade officers of ignoring his requests to send fire trucks to Koornalla, in the state’s east, where four people died.
The fires that ravaged Victoria on Black Saturday, February 7, caused the deaths of 173 people, including two of Mr Simmons’ work colleagues.
Mr Simmons, of Koornalla, this week told officials of the Royal Commission into the bushfires his town was left defenceless on February 7 because managers sent fire trucks to a harmless blaze in remote paddocks. He said he had urged regional officers at Morwell to send trucks but was told there was nothing they could do.
“Ten tankers were dispatched to a small fire that had reignited at Yinnar South from the Delburn fire a fortnight earlier but was not threatening,” Mr Simmons told AAP.
“There was nothing protecting Traralgon South, nothing protecting Koornalla. We asked for 10 tankers to be dispatched, but none came.
“Four people perished at Koornalla. It should have been protected. Beautiful, palatial homes and vehicles could have been saved if even one tanker had arrived.”
Mr Simmons said the CFA had known for three days that the hot weather and a massive wind change were coming. He said he and fellow firefighters were angry they were not properly deployed and that the CFA’s computer dispatch system worked effectively only with slow-moving predictable fires.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that no appliances were there. Some strike teams were back at the station at 1am when people were dying,” he said.
“Some of the professional people in upper positions go to water at the slightest bit of pressure.
“They will have to be accountable to someone at the Royal Commission.”
He said many high-ranking officers made ill-informed decisions from offices remote from the fire-front.
Residents from Kinglake and Flowerdale have told Royal Commissioner Bernard Teague they were angry they had no warning their towns were about to be engulfed on Black Saturday.
The United Firefighters Union is also expected to criticise the CFA for its response to the fires in a submission to the Royal Commission next week. Its submission is expected to include leaked emails accusing CFA management of blocking MFB and CFA professional firefighters and incompetently handling the fires.
Union secretary Peter Marshall told AAP the two fire bodies quickly met to resolve their differences the day the emails were leaked on February 20.
“We will be making a submission outlining problems with the system in a constructive way and recommending how they should be rectified in future to stop it being repeated,” he said.
The CFA did not respond to Mr Simmons’ comments before deadline.