Authorities deny bushfire warning system failed

 Authorities deny bushfire warning system failed

25 September 2009

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Australia — The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) has denied the bushfire warning system failed residents in the state’s north yesterday.

The QFRS issued a warning to residents at Mount Fox, north of Townsville, to evacuate their homes as a bushfire approached.

But residents who contacted rural firefighters were told they did not need to flee.

Rural firefighters say they were not told about the evacuation plan and locals crews should have been in control.

But QFRS spokesman Paul Adcock says they could not contact the firefighters who were battling the blaze, so they put out the alert.

“As the first officer of the brigade, he was doing what was necessary to be done,” he said.

“The most important thing in that particular instance would be the safety of the people in the community.

“Now not being able to communicate with people or contact people directly, our focus here was to get out that community message.”

Mr Adcock says the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission ruled that emergency authorities should listen to local crews.

“As an organisation we were given a message from the local people on the ground that there was a significant threat,” he said.

“We took the action that we thought was appropriate based on the fact that we were unable to get reliable information to back that up and we put out the community message.”

‘One voice’

Acting Premier Paul Lucas says residents should listen to the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service.

“It is no good in the middle of those sorts of things some people saying something and some people saying the other,” he said.

“They need to accept the discipline of the fact that if the QFRS make a call saying for people to evacuate.

“The fact that ultimately the fire wasn’t as severe … does not mean it’s not important to make that call in the first place.”

Mr Lucas says the QFRS was in charge.

“I think we need to make sure that people speak with one voice, but the other thing is this people need to understand that experts make calls and those calls need to be supported,” he said.

“In a command structure what you do is – the boss makes a call – sure later on, you might have a post-mortem and have a look at those sort of issues.”

But Opposition spokesman Tim Nicholls says the break down in communication needs to be sorted out.

“We’ve got two different messages coming out and that will be confusing for people – leaving your home and evacuating is a big move,” he said.

“I think that really it needs to be a question of learning from what happened in Victoria and making sure there is a clear message that’s gone out there.”

Blazes burning

Meanwhile, more than 10 large bushfires are still burning across the state.

Helicopters have dumped 10,000 litres of water on a grass fire at Oaky Creek, near the Queensland-New South Wales border.

It is not threatening homes.

In central Queensland, 12 crews are battling to contain a large bushfire at Nine Mile Creek near Rockhampton.

Helicopters are at the scene and backburning is underway to protect properties.

Crews are also fighting fires near Roma in southern Queensland, in the South Burnett, on the Darling Downs, in the state’s north and near the Sunshine Coast.

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has also closed an inland road on Fraser Island’s southern point because of a bushfire.

Fire crews are backburning and establishing control lines around the fire on the island off south-east Queensland, which started on Tuesday.

About 1,500 hectares of land has been burnt so far but no property is under threat.

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