Australia — THE Bushfire Front (BFF) has lashed out at the Fire and Emergency Service Authority (FESA) saying they don’t enforce prescribed burning in WA.
BFF chairman Roger Underwood said private landowners don’t do enough to prepare for the bushfire season but FESA was to blame.
Mr Underwood, who recently returned from a fire conference in the US, said it was necessary for an annual prescribed burning program, especially in high risk areas, but it was too late this year.
“We want to see a solid program of fuel reduction ticking over every year with burning done under mild conditions in winter, spring and late autumn,” Mr Underwood said.
“But it is far too late now to be talking about the need for more fuel reduction burning.”
Mr Underwood said the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) did prescribed burning on crown land in the South West, but in some areas the burning program was decades behind and overall their target was set too low.
He said the DEC only burnt eight per cent of South West forests every year but they should be burning at least 12pc.
“The DEC does do a good job but this does need to be improved,” he said.
But Mr Underwood said the biggest problem was on private land, especially in areas around the Perth hills, the Leeuwin-Naturalise ridge and country towns like Denmark, where bushfire fuels were getting out of hand.
Mr Underwood said most residents in these areas were hobby farmers who had no bushfire experience and failed to prepare their properties for bushfire survival.
“We blame FESA for this,” he said. “It should be pushing but it is doing nothing.
“It is focused on fire fighting, not on fire prevention or minimising fire damage.
“To make it worse, many country shires have opted out of their bushfire responsibilities.
“We consider a tragedy is inevitable.”
Mr Underwood said houses in the bush should have a 20 metre clearing around them and all roofs should have a sprinkler system.
He also was amazed WA authorities had not developed a Plan B.
He said there should be an effective warning system and a well-prepared evacuation plan in case the fire couldn’t be controlled.
“The assumption appears to be that all fires will be readily controlled, but history has shown that this is not possible, especially with heavy fuels,” Mr Underwood said.
“Given this inevitability, you would think that FESA and the shires would have developed and tested a comprehensive fire warning and evacuation plan for high risk areas.”
Mr Underwood said that the BFF had previously called on the authorities for a Bushfire Summit where problems in WA could be identified and action plans developed.
The concept had been rejected.
“FESA held a forum a couple of years ago, but no minutes were ever written nor any action agreed on,” Mr Underwood said. “It was just a talk-fest and a waste of time.”
Locals Against Wildfire Association secretary Sandy Lewis said prescribed burning outside the burning period was necessary throughout the year to get rid of the build-up of debris in the bush.
He said landowners, shires, the DEC and FESA needed to do their part to reduce the risk of fires coming up to the fire season, which included prescribed burning.
“Everybody is responsible,” Mr Lewis said. “But the DEC is so far more than 250,000 hectares behind in prescribed burning in the South West.”
There was not enough focus given to fire prevention and in the aftermath of the Toodyay fire, nobody talked about prevention measures that were taken to reduce the fire risk.
FESA chief operations officer Craig Hynes said last month a well prepared house was more likely to survive a bushfire and provide shelter than an unprepared one.
He said everybody who lived near bushland should prepare their homes and properties, which included reducing the amount of vegetation around the home.
“One of the biggest areas of concern is the State’s South West,” Mr Hynes said.
“The area is highly populated and has dense vegetation and this combined with the dryness means people in this area really need to prepare now.”