Major investigation into bushfires that destroyed 72 homes launched by FESA

Major investigation into bushfires that destroyed 72 homes launched by FESA

11 February 2011

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Australia — FESA has appointed the former chairman of the Council of Australian Government (COAG) Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management – Stuart Ellis – to investigate the major fires which ravaged the hills suburbs last weekend.

Chief Executive Officer Jo Harrison-Ward said, following consultation with the Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson, Mr Ellis would conduct a major incident review (MIR) into the bushfires at Red Hill and Roleystone. More than 70 homes were gutted and 39 properties damaged.

“The Roleystone fire was one of the State’s worst bushfires with significant loss of property, but it can’t be investigated in isolation because the Redhill fire was also having a major impact on emergency services at the time,” Ms Harrison-Ward said.“Mr Ellis, who was a former army officer who served with the SAS Regiment, is a highly respected internationally recognised fire management expert, who has the knowledge and expertise to undertake a review of this type.”

Ms Harrison-Ward said the MIR would investigate FESA’s operational performance, the effectiveness of arrangements and assess the preparations leading up to the major fires at Redhill and Roleystone.

The terms of reference for the MIR include:
• examine the effectiveness of preparedness leading up to the bushfires

• assess the effectiveness of FESA’s public information systems

• examine the effectiveness of the response to the bushfires including existing fire response procedures, multi-agency response and coordination, and resource deployment

• recommend future bushfire management strategies, including any required improvements to existing arrangements including public communications, community advice systems, infrastructure, training and overall resourcing

• examine any other matters relevant to the incident

Ms Harrison-Ward said the MIR was open and accountable, and the final report would be tabled in Parliament by the Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson and then released on FESA’s website.

She said the report was expected to be completed by 30 June 2011 to ensure that relevant outcomes and recommendations could be implemented prior to the 2011-12 bushfire season.

The DEC admitted two areas directly inside the fire zone were targeted for prescribed burns last year but were cancelled because of the dry conditions and concern over adverse winds.

DEC district fire co-ordinator Kevin Pollock said it was frustrating and worrying but there was nothing the department could do. He said it was so dry all controlled burning had been stopped in September, normally the start of the peak burn period.

Across the Perth Hills district, which included all the burned homes, he said DEC had burned 3000ha in the first eight months of 2010-11, compared with 75,000ha in 2009-10. None was in the fire zone and no controlled burns had been done there for four years.

At a briefing by DEC fire management staff yesterday, officers rejected suggestions the DEC had let residents down. They said the fire had started on private property and would have razed many homes before it reached the adjoining DEC land.

About a third of the area destroyed by the fire was national park managed by DEC.

Total fire ban declared for Perth Hills

A Total Fire Ban has been declared for Lower West coastal and inland parts of Perth and surrounding areas, with strong winds and high temperatures forecast today.

The forecast top for Perth is 34C, with fresh and gusty east to south-east winds tipped this afternoon – conditions similar to those which saw the wildfires spark last weekend.

That means any activity, such as barbecues, outdoor pizza ovens, or hot metalwork that could start a fire is banned.

If a Harvest and Vehicle Movement Ban has not been implemented by your local government you are able to harvest or move vehicles across paddocks as long as you have a firefighting vehicle on site with a minimum of 400 litres of water.

Offenders could be fined up to $25,000 or jailed for 12 months or both if the Fire Ban is ignored.

Prescribed burn ‘could have started wildfire’

DEC fire planning officer Roger Armstrong said prescribed burning in the area could have started a wildfire equal to or worse than what eventually occurred.

But he admitted community concern about smoke blanketing Perth had also stopped the agency from taking a more aggressive stance. “It is a major constraint for us,” he said.

Mr Armstrong said home owners also needed to take stock.

“I think there is a perception at times that it’s OK for me to build my house in this area overlooking a national park because it’s great, and it’s up to DEC now to manage my risk from fire,” he said.

“If someone builds a house in . . . a forest with trees over the top and no fuel separation between their house and the surroundings, that is foolish in the extreme, but people choose to do that.”

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