Australia — DILAPIDATED bridges in forest areas are stopping fire trucks from reaching bushfires and could create a deathtrap for firefighters needing a quick escape.
Ageing bridges in parks and forests are creating access headaches for firefighters and hindering critical response times.
Some 300 wooden bridges have been earmarked for upgrades since 2008, but to date only 30 have been completed.
This is despite a Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) implementation plan warning track infrastructure was crucial for timely access to bushfires.
The document, obtained by the Opposition under freedom of information, says some bridges and stream crossings are in such disrepair, four-tonne limits have been imposed on vehicles.
This locks out fire trucks, which weigh 15 tonnes when fully laden, and 44-tonne firefighting bulldozers, “severely impacting the overall firefighting capability”.
Some bridges, which are up to 60 years old, have collapsed. One disintegrated under the weight of a bulldozer on Dwyers Track near Erica in 2006, while the wooden supports broke on another bridge in the Strathbogie State Forest in 2007 in similar circumstances.
“Due to their age and deterioration over time, many of the older wooden bridges are now in poor and unsafe condition … many have exceeded their serviceable life,” the report says.
“The key success factor in combating bushfires and preventing them from spreading beyond five hectares is a rapid first attack in the first 24 hours.
“A functioning road network in high-risk fire areas is essential to achieving this.”
United Firefighters Union state secretary Peter Marshall said access was crucial not just for accessing a fire quickly but for getting out in an emergency.
“Following an exit plan and then realising that you can’t actually get out of the fire because the bridge is not in place is something that could potentially cost lives, it’s a serious issue,” he said.
“When it comes to wildfire or any sort of fire you get there quick … it makes the difference between a protracted incident that could involve many, many hectares of bush being lost or indeed properties and lives, as opposed to containing it to a small area.”
State Opposition bushfires spokesman Peter Ryan said the DSE’s 2009 annual report showed only five out of 60 promised bridges had been upgraded in the first 12 months of the four-year program.
“Labor is so far behind schedule it will need to repair almost 100 bridges a year for the next three years tocomplete the project,” he said.
A Government spokesman said the $60 million program had been hindered by last year’s bushfires, with many contractors had been diverted to fight fires.
Most of the bridges were still in use and functional, and many were crossings, including culverts of up to three metres in length.
“Thirty crossings have been completed with 95 more currently under contract for construction,” the spokesman said.
“A further 80 will begin construction shortly, with more than 100 crossings to be completed by July this year.”