Learn lessons of past fires

Learn lessons of past fires

18 February 2011

published by au.news.yahoo.com

Australia — Toodyay, Kardup, Kelmscott, Roleystone, Red Hill. The bushfire tragedies in WA continue to mount.

The question is, when is someone going to do something about it?

And at the same time, a few more pertinent questions might well be asked. For example, why have bushland fuels been allowed to accumulate for up to 20 years or more in and around residential areas in the Hills east of Perth?

The relationship between heavy fuels and unstoppable bushfires has been known for a century or more, but the problem is still allowed to proliferate.

Why is there no effective education in bushfire preparedness and self-defence for residents in bushfire prone areas? Every year we see people failing to take elementary precautions to prepare their properties for fire and then when a fire arrives they are caught by surprise. The sight of people facing 3m flames wearing shorts and thongs and armed with a plastic bucket of water is a recurring television image, revealing a serious failure in bushfire safety education.

Why do our authorities no longer enforce the Bush Fires Act, especially the provisions for hazard reduction on private land? WA has an excellent Bush Fires Act, but it sits on the shelf in shire offices while land owners fail to reduce hazards on their properties.

Why is our fire control approach increasingly reliant on a technology that is doomed to failunder severe winds? Water bombers do a fantastic job under relatively mild conditions, but once the winds get up, or night falls, they are grounded and they cannot stop the run of a crown fire in jarrah forest.

And why have persistent warnings of a bushfire tragedy in the Perth Hills been ignored or denied?

The Bushfire Front has been batting on about this for years, but we are treated by the authorities as “yesterday’s men”. We may be getting on in years, but this does not mean we have forgotten lessons in bushfire management learnt during 50 years or more of hard experience in the bush.

We are distraught about the ongoing and needless bushfire tragedies.

Worse than that, we are fearful that unless questions such as these are thoroughly analysed and new approaches adopted, the disasters will be repeated endlessly in the summers ahead.

The time has passed for an independent inquiry into bushfire leadership and administration in WA.

The problem is not that we do not know what to do – WA is blessed with world class land managers and fire scientists. The problem is that “the system” does not allow them to get on with their job and this must be tackled urgently.

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