Career fireys ‘needed’

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Environment Minister Stephen Dawson has stood by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ existing firefighters numbers.
Camera IconEnvironment Minister Stephen Dawson has stood by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ existing firefighters numbers. Credit: The Sunday Times, Jackson Flindell The Sunday Times

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam says three escaped Parks and Wildlife fires in June demonstrate the need for greater year-round firefighting resources in the region.

While council volunteer brigades gained millions of dollars in new appliances plus extra training — and responsibilities — through the Capes Enhancement Program, introduced after the 2011 Margaret River bushfires, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions firefighters now had two fewer colleagues and an equivalent number of mechanical resources.

“It is deeply concerning that since 2011 we have seen a decrease in the number of career firefighters in our district,” she said.

“More needs to be done to mitigate and prevent bushfires in the Capes region, which includes continued and additional funding and reducing red tape.”

Her comments come as councils grapple with new, more detailed requirements for burns on private land, and a review of DBCA incidents on June 3 this year confirmed the Capes bushfire season was growing.

Ms Mettam said recommendations from the inquiry into the 2015 Esperance fires, which killed four, included to “review the start and duration of the bushfire season in Esperance and across the State, given the impacts of climate change on temperature, fuel load, wind speed and humidity”.

Warren-Blackwood MLA Terry Redman said it would be “useful” to review DBCA’s resources to deliver valued prescribed burns. “Although backed by research and strict protocols, prescribed burning is not an exact science, and from time to time burns will get away,” he said.

“The department needs to factor in this risk, otherwise if they waited for perfect conditions they would never light a fire.”

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson, pictured above, said $22 million in recent funding would help deliver the DBCA burning program, which Mr Redman welcomed.

DBCA said it did not have a “fixed fire season” and fire rosters were flexible depending on “weather patterns and the likelihood of bushfires occurring”.

“Outside of the southern bushfire season, and the peak periods of spring and autumn prescribed burning, DBCA still maintains a significant bushfire-suppression capability across the South West,” a spokesperson said.

“DBCA is currently considering the recommendations of the Esperance coronial inquiry and will formally respond to them at the conclusion of this bushfire season.”

Ms Mettam said a 2015 productivity report highlighted long-standing concern governments underinvested in mitigation and spent too much on recovery.

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