The Environment Department has been criticised for failing to make reserves safe with bushfire burnoffs

The Environment Department has been criticised for failing to make reserves safe with bushfire burnoffs

01 February 2018

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THE Environment Department has failed to complete around half of its planned burn-offs to make its land safe during bushfire season, especially in the highly vulnerable Adelaide Hills.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show it failed to pre-burn 4223ha, an area totalling 16 times that of the Adelaide CBD, before the summer fire season of 2016/17.

A spokeswoman for the department blamed wet weather for the failures but Adelaide Hills Mayor Bill Spragg said he was concerned that some of the burns which did not happen were near populated areas.

In the Hills alone, before and after the 2016/17 bushfire season, the department failed to burn an area around the size of the Adelaide CBD when 19 burn-offs were not completed.

“One is a bit problematic not being able to do ones that back onto a suburb like Black Hill,’’ Mr Spragg said.

Burn-offs are carried out during cooler months to leave no fuel load in the event of a wildfire over summer and each year the Environment Department plans dozens in the Adelaide Hills, South East, Murraylands, Eyre and Yorke peninsulas.

Before and after the 2016/17 fire season, 88 burn-offs were planned throughout the state by the Environment Department. A handful of these were on SA Water and Forestry SA land. Of these 88, only 45 were completed or partly completed, with 4223ha left unburnt. An Environment Department spokeswoman said: “Prescribed burns only take place when vegetation is dry enough’’.

Opposition environment spokesman David Speirs questioned whether the department, which was subjected to a 40 per cent budget cut several years ago, had the resources to carry out the burn-offs it needed to.

“The Weatherill Government must ensure that the Environment Department has the resources necessary to complete these prescribed burns,’’ he said.

Environment Minister Ian Hunter said the budget for burn-offs had been quadrupled since 2003.

“When they (the Liberals) were last in government, they didn’t have a prescribed burning program at all,’’ he said.

For the 2017/18 fire season, of the 46 spring burn-offs planned, 13 totalling 1309ha or five times the area of the Adelaide CBD were not carried out. But in previous years it is the Autumn burns — yet to be completed this year — which most commonly were not carried out.

Originally published as Burn-off shortfall has us playing with fire

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