Australia — The Department of Environment and Conservation has completed less than 10 per cent of its planned prescribed burns in the South West this financial year, triggering warnings of a catastrophic fire threat.
A DEC spokeswoman confirmed yesterday the agency had burnt just over 18,000ha in the South West forest regions – well short of the 200,000ha target.
A long, dry summer and red tape were blamed for the small area covered.
She said work on recommendations from the Keelty inquiry into the Margaret River blaze had affected the number of burns.
“The department has implemented major improvements to its prescribed burn planning and implementation arrangements to take better account of risk and to include more detailed contingency planning,” she said.
The DEC burnt about 102,000ha in the year to June 2012, making it the 13th time in the past 15 years the department had failed to meet its aim.
Roger Underwood, chairman of the Bushfire Front, a group promoting better management of fire in WA, said the 18,000ha figure was a “pretty shocking outcome”.
“It’s all process and no outcome,” he said. “As far as I can see they’ve developed a new system that prevents the burning program getting done.”
Mr Underwood wrote to the department’s acting director- general Jim Sharp last week warning that no action in the karri forest near Pemberton could lead to a disaster.
“Unless DEC recommences a responsible burning program in the karri forest and fast, there is going to be an enormous and ghastly fire,” he wrote.
Mr Underwood said he was confronted by “appalling bushfire fuel levels” when he recently visited the karri forests, suggesting some had not had a fuel reduction burn since the late 1960s when he was executive officer of the Pemberton National Parks Board.
The DEC spokeswoman said the prescribed burn program for autumn 2013 started recently and included proposed burns totalling 135,200ha.
“It is intentionally large to account for burns that cannot proceed because of changing daily weather conditions,” she said.
“When conditions are right to safely undertake burns, DEC will pursue prescribed burns to reduce fuel loads in the South West.”