An internal Shire of Augusta-Margaret River report into last Novembers bushfires at Prevelly and Kilcarnup has confirmed local volunteer firefighters responded to early warning signs without State Government involvement and their fast and professional response may have averted a greater disaster.
The wash-up report, separate to the Noetic Solutions report belatedly released last week, reveals many local fireys adopted freelancing mode on the second day of the fires as relief efforts went into limbo.
The report confirms serious shortcomings including:
DEC had not personally notified Shire fire controllers about prescribed burns for some time prior to the emergency.
Sector commanders were not allocated to growing fire zones as the fire spread and few sector commanders possessed local knowledge.
Radio chatter, missing channels and communications black spots wreaked havoc with emergency efforts.
Moving the incident control to the old SES building was a disaster without proper communications or computer facilities.
Not enough volunteers were trained in structural firefighting methods and heavy vehicle driving.
There were equipment problems, inadequate masks including some that melted in the heat and not enough helmet torches for night work.
12-hour shifts were difficult for many volunteers, especially those who came from regular working duties.
Uncertainty around refuelling arrangements.
Community preparations for bushfire emergencies were described as apathetic in the report, with obstacles on fire tracks including BMX jumps.
Inadequate direction from DEC to local crews, including shortfalls in local knowledge in unrealistic instructions to some brigades, such as Augusta.
Loose volunteers were ignored unless they were part of full crews prepared for action.
Volunteers were roadblocked by police officers despite full uniform and sirens.
Thorough mopping up around houses was a key recommendation to stop future losses from re-ignition.
Only DEC vehicles were tracked on the incident white boards, leading to inexact details for vehicles on ground.
Some brigades had more volunteers waiting to go into action than available vehicles, which frustrated volunteer efforts. The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.