Bushfires mapped in ‘back room’, Royal Commission hears

Bushfires mapped in ‘back room’, Royal Commission hears

12 May 2009

published by www.news.com.au

USA — Experts

who mapped fires in advance that destroyed Kinglake and Marysville were in a back room ‘out of sight’, the Royal Commission hears.The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission heard today that academic Dr Kevin Tolhurst and his team accurately predicted that the fires would sweep across both towns and a number of other smaller communities.

Ewan Waller, the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s chief fire officer, said the experts were out of sight in a back room at the Integrated Emergency Co-ordination Centre (IECC) in East Melbourne.

“I would have preferred if they were in closer situation,” he said.

Mr Waller said the department had a long association with Dr Tolhurst and realised the value of fire prediction after working with Canadian experts in earlier bushfires.

Counsel assisting the commission, Jack Rush QC, said the fire that destroyed Marysville started at Murrindindi Mill at 3pm on February 7.

Mr Rush suggested that the run south of the fire from Murrindindi was predictable as was the sudden change of the fire front when there was a south-westerly wind change late in the afternoon.

Mr Waller agreed that the fire was reported to be spotting at Narbethong at around 4.30pm in advance of the change.

He couldn’t recall seeing a fire prediction map, made by the experts between 5.45pm and 6pm, that showed a south westerly wind change sweeping the fire across Marysville and later in the evening across Buxton.

Mr Waller told Mr Rush he recalled seeing fire prediction maps on February 7 but could not recall if he saw that one.

Mr Waller said the response to the Murrindindi fire was coordinated from Alexandra and he was not sure if controller there ever saw the fire prediction maps.

Mr Rush said the fire was never under control and according to the DSE’s own fire forest index could never be brought under control.

The QC suggested calls were logged saying the fire was at Marysville 18.48 and Buxton 7.32.
The Murrindindi Fire took 26 days to contain.

CFA Chief Officer Russell Rees was recalled today and he could not explain why there was no mention of Kinglake on the CFA website on Black Saturday between 4.35pm and 5.55pm, when a warning was finally issued.

The commission heard yesterday that the firestorm that swept across Kinglake had been acurately mapped hours earlier in the IECC.

Mr Rush asked Mr Rees why Strathewen, where 27 people died, was never mentioned in any CFA warnings.

Mr Rees said Arthur’s Creek, which was nearby, was mentioned.
Mr Rush suggested Strathewen was mentioned in other CFA communications.

“Why would Strathewen miss out (on warnings)?” Mr Rush asked.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Mr Rees replied.

The commission hearings are continuing.

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