Victoria lacking usable fire refuge four years after Black Saturday, report finds

Victoria lacking usable fire refuge four years after Black Saturday, report finds

31 July 2013

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Australia — Victoria still hasn’t built a usable fire refuge in response to the devastating Black Saturday bushfires, a progress report has found.

While this failure since the 2009 fires is disappointing, it may be time to review the complex plan and consider another, says the Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor (BRCIM) report.

“The fact that four years after Black Saturday there is still not one additional CFR (community fire refuge) available to the community as a last resort shelter option is a matter of significant concern,” BRCIM head Neil Comrie said in the report released on Wednesday. “It may be timely to review the broader policy settings around the range of available bushfire shelter options.”

Victoria’s only community fire refuge is located in an old gold rush mining tunnel at Woods Point, northeast of Melbourne.

Multiple sites at public schools have been studied and tested but nothing has been designated as a safe refuge at this time, with liability issues, maintenance, operation and construction problems adding to the delays.

The progress report, however, was released as Bushfire Response minister Kim Wells announced the start of construction on a fire refuge at Blackwood’s CFA fire station.

The report found 20 of the royal commission’s 67 recommendations have still not yet been fully implemented.

Comrie said it was disturbing that large sections of the community were already complacent about bushfires only four years after 173 people died.

Fire officials found only 1.5% of residents had left early on a code red day – when there is a catastrophic risk of an unstoppable bushfire fire.

“These disturbing findings illustrate that there is still a great deal of work to be done,” Comrie said.

He placed much of the blame on extraordinary delays in creating a national bushfire awareness campaign.

“The present indication that this work will take at least another five years is of significant concern,” he said.

The report found authorities performed well during its first real test since Black Saturday during the 2012-13 bushfire season. But five people lost their lives in battling 4400 fires.

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