Still only one fire refuge in Vic: report

Still only one fire refuge in Vic: report

31 July 2012

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Australia– MORE than three years after the devastating Black Saturday bushfires Victoria still has only one community fire refuge, a progress report has found.

The Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor (BRCIM) says the process of identifying and designating neighbourhood safer places has also proved challenging.

Costs of constructing refuges and safe places and liability issues have proved stumbling blocks, the report found.

It found that as of May 31 this year, 237 neighbourhood safer places have been designated across Victoria but a further 30 sites were found to be unsuitable.

Victoria’s sole community fire refuge is located in an old goldrush mining tunnel at Woods Point northeast of Melbourne.

Councils fear the risks and costs associated with the establishment, maintenance and operation of refuges, while owners of suitable facilities for use as refuges are reluctant to permit use unless there is a protection from liability for loss of life or injury, the report said.

The report’s author was the BRCIM’s head Neil Comrie, who said many other key recommendations had been met including legislative changes to improve electricity safety.

Mr Comrie is charged with monitoring the implementation of 67 recommendations made following the royal commission into the February 2009 Black Saturday fires, which killed 173 people.

The audit is overseeing the progress of government departments and agencies implementing bushfire reforms.

Mr Comrie said there were a number of recommendations that would be delivered over a longer term.

“The process of identification and designation of Neighbourhood Safer Places (NSPs) has proven to be a major challenge for the state and local government, and it is clear that in some locations NSPs are not appropriate on safety and other legitimate grounds,” he said.

The designation of community fire refuges had also been a slow process and must be dealt with as soon as possible, the report said.

Victorian Deputy Premier and Minister for Bushfire Response Peter Ryan said the report noted that 35 recommendations had now been completed, while hundreds of actions had been implemented across government departments and agencies.

The government has extended Mr Comrie’s role for a further two years.

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