Bushfire prevention is once again on the backburner

Bushfire prevention is once again on the backburner

25 November 2010

published by www.dailytelegraph.com.au

Australia —  IT IS absolutely extraordinary that John Brumby and his Victorian Government seem to have evaded any fallout from the Black Saturday bushfires during the current election campaign.

The Victorian Premier has even been praised for his Government’s handling of the 2009 crisis.

Even the debacle of former Victorian police commissioner Christine Nixon’s infamous day of hairdresser appointments, biographer meetings and restaurant dinner never managed to touch Teflon John.

Yet it had been the Victorian Labor Government which buckled to green demands on bush management.

Brumby’s Labor Government oversaw the disastrous neglect of hazard reduction burning of bushland.

This came about despite repeated warnings from bushfire scientists and rural fire brigade volunteers with long experience of the special vulnerability of Victorian forests.

This neglect directly increased the scale and ferocity of those terrifying fires, which killed 173 people and turned entire streets to char.

One of those who has been warning the Government about the dangers of not properly managing the bush is respected former CSIRO bushfire scientist David Packham.

This week he sent an urgent email to a group of Victorian fire brigade captains warning of the increased dangers of grass fires this summer.

Recent heavy rains have fuelled massive grass growth, and Packham says “the year looks very concerning”.

“Firstly, grass fires do not need much, if any, drying out,” he wrote.

“Once the grass is fully cured an outbreak of an intense fire weather system with hot, dry north winds is all it takes to plunge the state into a disaster situation. The major problem is that the grass growth has been huge around the state and especially the roadsides have become very dangerous.”

As Packham writes, former clearing methods are no longer employed, despite being successful.

“Once the roadsides and railway lines were burnt off each year and gave both firefighters and citizens a degree of protection,” he says.

“That does not happen any more and the roads which were once firebreaks are now almost explosive fuses.

“Grass fires travel fast; up to 27km/h on the flat … “

He concludes ominously: “They are not survivable if you are in the open.”

Packham criticised the Bushfire Royal Commission’s recommendation of a tripling to 5 per cent of the amount of public land to be hazard reduced each year, warning it was not enough.

His warnings have been proven tragically correct before, such as when he warned in 2003 that Kinglake, with its “mix of fuel, unsafe roadsides and embedded houses,” was a disaster waiting to happen.

Yet the lesson is never learned.

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