Esperance bushfire: barnett says ‘some blazes simply cannot be stopped’

Esperance bushfire: barnett says ‘some blazes simply cannot be stopped’

17 November 2016

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Australia — WA Premier Colin Barnett is yet to digest a privately-commissioned report criticising the response to the deadly Esperance bushfires a year ago but says some blazes simply cannot be stopped.

The independent report by Pacer Legal, which was commissioned by local residents including Grass Patch farmer Dan Sanderson, will be tabled in parliament on Thursday.

Findings include requests for water bombers in the early stages of the blaze not being met and a recommendation the Department of Fire and Emergency Services lose control of the Emergency Services Levy.

Mr Barnett said a previous report by former Victorian and South Australian Country Fire Service chief Euan Ferguson, which mainly focused on January’s deadly Yarloop-Waroona bushfires, noted a potential conflict of interest with DFES allocating the money from the levy.

“Therefore does it favour itself? I don’t believe it necessarily does but I think there probably does need to be a level of independence in that,” the premier told ABC radio.

He said the state government would consider the new report and had been committing more funds towards firefighting, particularly prescribed burning.

But with very severe fires like the one that killed four people in the Esperance region 12 months ago, “probably nothing much can stop it”, he said. “High temperatures, high wind, the crops were going to the harvest stage and it just raced across those crops. So yep, it got out of control but in 100 knot winds. Nothing can stop that – nothing.”

While some members of the community with respiratory illnesses had suffered from burn-offs, they had to be done thoroughly prior to the bushfire season, he said, while Esperance was better prepared this year with two aircraft already on stand-by at the airport.

“Some people might say that’s too late but there were a lot fires burning on that day – there were about 30 fires along the southwest – so there’s a limit to how many machines, equipment, water bombers that can be in different places at one time,” he said.

“And that’s why we all pay a higher Emergency Services Levy, so we can have more equipment and get it there quicker.”

Those killed in the 300,000 hectare fire were Scaddan farmer Kym Curnow, 45, who saved several people from driving into the inferno, Norwegian national Anna Sashohova Winther, 29, British man Thomas Leslie Butcher, 31, and German woman Julia Kohrs-Lichte, 19.

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