Australia fire chief: ‘I have got blood on my hands’

Australia fire chief: ‘I have got blood on my hands’

24 November 2009

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Australia– The incident controller blamed for the Boorabbin bushfire tragedy that killed three men has talked about his regret and sorrow over the disaster.

Barry Hooper told Channel 9 news last night that he had blood on his hands.

“I guess I have got blood on my hands, no one can deny that three people died in that fire so I’m remorseful for that,” he said.

“I wish I could turn back the clock. I’m obviously very sorry for what happened. Unfortunately, I can’t rewrite that part of history.”

Three truck drivers — Lewis Bedford, 60, Robert Taylor, 46, and Trevor Murley, 53 — lost their lives when their vehicles were engulfed in flames on the Great Eastern Highway on December 30, 2007.

Mr Hooper, who was the Kalgoorlie-based Department of Environment and Conservation incident controller at the time, let the truckies pass a road block on the fateful day.

He told Channel 9 that he was under considerable pressure at the time.

“You’ve got to remember the traffic at Coolgardie had been there for five hours, so there was quite a bit of pressure to get them through and there was a window of opportunity where there was a lull in the weather for them to drive through a fire ground,” he said.

Mr Hooper said the DEC had been escorting traffic through the fire all afternoon in extreme conditions with the assistance of a helicopter telling them when it was safe.

He said the DEC did recognise that on a typical weather cycle there would be a south-westerly change. “What we weren’t aware of was how many ignition points there would be,” Mr Hooper said. “We thought we could manage them with the contingency plans. Unfortunately there were many more ignition points than we were able to manage.”

He said he thought the inquest was cut short and witnesses who were vital to his case were not heard.

Mr Hooper, who was this month given a redundancy payment of $73,539, said that since the fire his life had been turned upside down.

He said he had tried to return to work but the stress was too great and he had to rely on medication to get him through.

“I’ve had role changes, I’ve also had relationship breakdowns, causing grief to lots of other people around me,” Mr Hooper said. “I’m deeply remorseful for what happened.”

Environment Minister Donna Faragher told Parliament yesterday that the DEC had developed guidelines to deal with weather information during bushfire incidents.

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