AUSTRALIA – The New South Wales government has announced an independent review into the Bega Valley fire after reports that some residents did not receive emergency text messaging and the firefighting union said the Rural Fire service turned down an offer of assistance from the Fire and Rescue NSW.
The minister for emergency services, Troy Grant, said the former Australian federal police commissioner, Mick Keelty would undertake the review.
NSW authorities defend warning system after devastating Tathra fire
Grant said the residents of Tathra and surrounding areas had understandably been left devastated by the bushfire and the damage it left behind. About 70 houses were lost or damaged in the blaze, which ripped through the town on Sunday afternoon. While no one died, some residents did not receive text message alerts to evacuate.
There have also been allegations that the Rural Fire service turned down an offer of assistance from the Fire and Rescue NSW. The professional fire fighting service offered to send a pumper to the fires after receiving numerous emergency calls. The RFS, a volunteer organisation, said the pumper was unsuitable for the conditions they faced on Sunday.
Grant said after residents returned to their homes there would be a full investigation.
“Mr Keelty has the credentials and the experience to properly review the operational response to the Bega Valley fire, having led an independent inquiry into the 2011 Perth Hills bushfire and the 2012 Margaret River bushfire,” he said. “His expertise will ensure an independent assessment of the events surrounding this natural disaster.”
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Grant said this would particularly focus on the call taking and dispatch arrangements of both Fire and Rescue NSW and Rural Fire Service across the state. “Any recommendations that are put forward will be considered to ensure regional and rural communities in NSW receive the best emergency service response possible,” he said.
The minister said local firefighters and personnel had worked tirelessly to contain the Bega Valley fire and save as many properties as they could.
“Thank you to all firefighters who risked their lives to fight the Bega Valley fire,” Grant said. “While properties have been lost, together our firies saved 398 homes and no lives were lost, which is thanks to the hard work from both NSW RFS and Fire and Rescue NSW firefighters. Our firefighters have gone above and beyond for their community, as they always do.”
The review was “by no means a criticism of our dedicated and hardworking firies, rather the appropriate course of action to ensure community confidence in our emergency service agencies”.
An official coronial inquest will also be conducted into the emergency response to the fire.