CFS volunteers critical after burn-offs in national parks not finished before summer

CFS volunteers critical after burn-offs in national parks not finished before summer

14 June 2016

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Australia — COUNTRY Fire Service volunteers have criticised the Environment Department after an Advertiser investigation revealed that less than half the parkland scheduled for safety burn-offs last season was actually put to the torch.

Large areas managed by the department must be burned in controlled fires each spring to prevent bushfires spreading to neighbouring land.

But of the 39 burn-offs planned before the 2015/16 bushfire season began in October last year, only 24 were carried out. And this made safe less than half the land area to be controlled, with 900ha of the planned 2283ha actually burned.

This information, obtained through Freedom of Information, prompted an angry response from former Bushfire Prevention Committee chairman and Deputy Chief of the Kangaroo Island CFS brigade Peter Davis, who battled fatal fires in 2007.

Islanders blamed the State Government for not allowing prevention burn-off, and still criticise management of the Flinders Chase National Park which includes a large portion of the island.

“This is still a problem now and all the time, because burn-offs should be completed every year,’’ Mr Davis said.

“The government are also making the rules so hard that they are not letting farmers burn to make roadsides or creek lines safe because they can’t get permission.’’

Although denied by the Environment Department at the time, in 2007 locals blamed the large areas of unmanaged national parks and native vegetation for the severity of fires, because the native vegetation contains flammable oils.

Finniss MP Michael Pengilly, whose electorate includes Kangaroo Island and the Fleurieu Peninsula, said the huge Flinders Chase National Park was still not properly fire-managed by the department.

“In 2007 they lost the entire national park and to the best of my knowledge that hasn’t been managed since, and the whole lot will burn again,’’ he said.

“There are the same problems on the Fleurieu and they do not take any notice of people who have been doing these burn offs all their lives.’’

The Environment Department denied severe budget cuts which had led to many staff leaving the agency were the cause of the failures.

“DEWNR’s fire management funding has more than trebled over the past 12 years and reflects recommendations for prescribed burning made in Victoria’s Black Saturday Royal Commission,’’ a spokesman said.

“The fire management budget for 2015-16 is $10.304m compared to $3.155m in 2003-04.’’

The Environment Department spokesman blamed bad weather for the failure to complete the planned burn-offs.

“Prescribed burns can only be carried out when weather conditions are suitable for the operation to be conducted safely and effectively,’’ the spokesman said.

“The spring 2015 prescribed burn season was an especially challenging one, as September was very wet and hot weather started from the first weekend in October.

“October 2015 was the hottest October on record.

“These weather condition dried fuels out rapidly and a number of planned burns had to be postponed as weather conditions were unsuitable or fire behaviours were too intense and fuels too dry for burns to be managed safely.

“Ten of the burns that were not completed were rolled over into the autumn program. Seven of those have now been carried out and an eighth is proposed.

“The remaining two will be prioritised for spring 2016-17.’’

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