Prescribed burning ‘effective’ on Black Saturday

Prescribed burning ‘effective’ on Black Saturday

6 October 2009

published by

Australia —

The Bushfires Royal Commission has heard even under the extreme conditions of Black Saturday, fuel reduction burning made a difference.

The Department of Sustainability’s Shaun Lawlor has described flames 100 metres high on the flanks of the Murrindindi fire.

But Mr Lawlor said even under the worst conditions on Black Saturday, prescribed burning had a moderating effect on the fire.

He said at times the fuel reduction burning only temporarily limited the spread of the Murrindindi fire’s flank, without having an impact on the firefront.

But he said images taken since the fires showed parts of the forest that had been fuel reduced burnt less intensely, with the leaves still intact, as opposed to completely scorched off.

Earlier, the commission was told that a backburn lit in Marysville as a bushfire approached put the lives of firefighters in danger on Black Saturday.

The fire travelled two kilometres in the first five minutes.

The commission heard the Department of Sustainability started backburning on the southern side of Marysville at 6:30pm, but a wind change quickly forced a retreat to the town’s oval.

Over the next two weeks, the commission will examine of the wisdom of that backburn.

The commission will not hear any evidence about the cause of the fire, which is thought to be suspicious, because of the ongoing police investigation.

Forty people died in the fire and hundreds of homes in Marysville, Narbethong, Buxton and Taggerty were destroyed.

The commission has also heard evidence from a Department of Sustainability and Environment fire spotter who saw the fire ignite at the Murrindindi mill just before 3pm on Black Saturday.

Colin Hind told the commission that he rang the Glenburn fire station and advised them to “throw everything they had” at the fire, which was moving at speeds of 25 kilometres an hour.

He then abandoned his tower.

The captain of the Glenburn fire brigade David Webb Ware was also among the first on the scene of the Murrindindi mill fire.

He told the commission that what began as a grass fire had already got into a pine plantation and was crowning as soon as it hit the trees.

Mr Webb Ware said there was “absolutely no possibility” of controlling the fire and it was “pointless” doing anything to fight it.

He said it was clear that firefighters were not going to be able to hold the fire when the wind changed, and he conveyed that concern to his boss.

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