Australia — An independent body responsible for signing off on all prescribed burns in WA has been launched in response to the Margaret River bushfires.
The state government promised to establish the Office of Bushfire Risk Management in response to the Keelty report into the November fires, which destroyed 40 homes.
Emergency Services Minister Troy Buswell today announced the office was now operating, and would report directly to Fire and Emergency Services Authority boss Wayne Gregson.
Advertisement: Story continues below “Once fully-established, the OBRM will assess the risks of all prescribed burns, as well as the level of resources available should such burns flare out of control,” Mr Buswell said.
An inquiry by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty found serious shortcomings in the planning and implementation of the prescribed burn that was started by the Department of Environment and Conservation in September and crossed containment lines on November 23.
The DEC defended as necessary its decision to add fire to the prescribed burn on November 22 and 23 that led to the devastating fire, despite severe fire danger conditions forecast for just two days later. Mr Buswell said the new office would ensure the prescribed burning process was independently scrutinised before the ignition of the burn, and had authority to delay or cancel a burn if the risks are too great.
He said prescribed burning had an important role to play in protecting local communities and important economic, social, ecological and heritage assets from bushfire, but had to be carefully managed.
“The government is committed to achieving the benefits of prescribed burning while ensuring it is conducted in such a way that the associated risk is understood and is as low as is reasonably practicable,” he said.
“Once fully-established, the OBRM will ensure that the future approach to bushfire risk mitigation programs and decision making is consistent with international risk management practice.”
“In line with the Keelty recommendations, it will also facilitate greater information sharing and co-ordination between agencies involved in prescribed burning and management of bushfire-related risk generally.”
Mark Webb, the chief executive of the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, has been named interim director and will return to his role once a permanent appointment is made in the coming months.