Mapping errors missed Black Saturday bushfire risk to Marysville

Mapping errors missed Black Saturday bushfire risk to Marysville

09 February 2010

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Australia —  MARYSVILLE and other communities devastated in Murrindindi Shire on Black Saturday were not identified high bushfire risk areas because of mapping errors, the Bushfires Royal Commission heard today.

The CFA’s director of community safety, Lisa Sturzenegger, said the authority’s guidelines stated that all areas within 100m of dense vegetation should have been mapped and identified as being at risk before Black Saturday.

A wildfire management overlay (WMO) conducted in Murrindindi Shire in 2001 did not include Marysville or Pine Ridge Rd, which were wiped out by the February 7 fires last year.

Counsel assisting the commission, Melinda Richards, said that it was only in 2002 that public land was included in WMO’s.

“It’s hard to conceive that the area we saw on the satellite image (Marysville and Pine Ridge Rd) being other than an extraodinarily high bushfire risk area,” Ms Richards said.

Ms Sturzenegger said the accuracy of the maps was checked by Murrindindi Shire and the CFA and even if they were not included in the WMO all at risk areas should be identified.

“When I thoroughly investigated the fires and the maps that have been produced a 100m buffer should have been put in place around Kinglake National Park and around the township of Marysville, “ she said.

“I can only conclude they didn’t take into account the buffer zone correctly.”

Ms Sturzenegger said research showed that in bushfires 85 per cent of homes were lost within 100m of dense bushland and 99 per cent within 350m of dense bushland.

She said that with this research as a guide mapping was important to identify areas most at risk.

Ms Richards asked if the CFA went back after 2002 to Murrindindi to ensure that its WMO was updated to include public land in the shire.

Ms Sturzenegger replied that it took 4.8 years to put a WMO in place.

“CFA was very committed to getting WMO’s in place,” she said.

“That took higher priority than going back and mapping areas that had already been mapped.”

Commission chairman Bernie Teague said that in the CFA advice to householders on fire safety there was no mention of dams and swimming pools being a good refuge in a wildfire.

Mr Teague said although there were deaths recorded in fire bunkers the commission had heard of no instance where a person perished while sheltering in a body of water.

“Our experience from the evidence is so many people saved their lives by going to water places,” he said.

Ms Sturzenegger said swimming pools and dams were seen in the CFA as “plan B or plan C” life-saving measures for people in bushfires.

“If we encourage too much of the plan B or plan C and the life-saving measures we’ll move away from the real life-saving measures which are to have an appropriate plan in place and to leave early and have prepared yourself,” she said.

“We wouldn’t want people practising running to the dam.”

The commission is continuing.

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