DEC failed to assess burn risk: Keelty

Controlled burns suspended in wake of report into Margaret River bushfire

23 February 2012

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Australia — THE Barnett government has suspended all controlled burns near towns and rural subdivisions following a report into the Margaret River bushfire that found serious mistakes by the Department of Environment and Conservation.

DEC, which lit the fire that destroyed 32 homes in Western Australia’s popular south west wine region including the historic riverside mansion Wallcliffe House, has been stripped of firefighting responsibilities for major blazes.

From now on, fire emergencies will be dealt with by the Fire and Emergency Services Authority, known to have had a rivalry and a somewhat antagonistic relationship with DEC in the past.

The Department of Environment and Conservation has also lost management of its program of controlled burns. That will be overseen by a new Office of Bushfire Management.

Premier Colin Barnett today apologized in parliament to all those whose homes were lost or damaged last November after tabling the findings of a report by former Australian Federal Police chief Mick Keelty.

Mr Keelty found the department did not adequately identify or manage risks during the controlled burn, nor did it properly monitor the fire.

Mr Barnett said the government had set aside up to $190,000 for each homeowner who lost their house but acknowledged individuals or insurance companies may also try to sue the state.

“Serious mistakes were made,” Mr Barnett said.

He singled out DEC’s lack of monitoring of the fire on the night of November 22 and a decision to light another fire nearby.

The inquiry established there had been a serious communication breakdown inside the state government department at 2.55pm on November 22 when a spotter pilot saw smoke in the south west corner of a block where the burn was being conducted and reported it as a matter of “high concern”. But it was passed on as “no concerns” and nobody was sent to check it.

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