Website warning of ‘deadly’ bushfire a mistake

Website warning of ‘deadly’ bushfire a mistake

26 November 2009

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Australia — Fires authorities wrongly issued an extreme fire warning for the Otways area in a bungled training exercise, telling residents a deadly blaze was heading towards them.

The warning was posted on a website run by the Country Fire Authority and Department of Sustainability for almost 30 minutes yesterday before the mistake was discovered and the warning removed.

A copy of the warning, obtained by The Age, stated that a fast-moving fire in the Barwon Downs area would strike local towns within two hours and was heading towards Wye River.

”What to do: Go to your safer place only if the path is clear – heat from the fire can kill you,” the warning said. ”It is likely to be too late to leave.”

Last night, a department spokeswoman said the warning was inadvertently published and available publicly from 11.34am until noon, when it was removed.

”The warning was intended for internal use only and was part of a scenario-based exercise,” she said.

”While the warning was intended to replicate real-life conditions as closely as possible, we acknowledge that it should have noted it was a test warning.”

Opposition bushfire spokesman Peter Ryan seized on the error, saying John Brumby could not be trusted on bushfires when ”irresponsible false warnings” were posted on the CFA website.

But Government spokesman Lyall Johnson said the issue had been rectified and he accused Mr Ryan of politically inspired scaremongering by talking down the work of fire agencies and communities.

”It is totally appropriate that staff are trained about the new system,” the spokesman for Environment Minister Gavin Jennings said.

Barwon Downs CFA captain Gavin Brien said he knew little of the incident. ”It must have been an exercise and then it went on the net. I’ve heard nothing official about it, just heard it on the grapevine.”

General store owner Vikki Lees said nobody knew anything about it. ”If we see smoke here, we mark it up on the blackboard, but there was none,” she said.

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