Resources in line of fire

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Unrelated fire pic.
Camera IconUnrelated fire pic. Credit: Getty Images

Fire experts have acknowledged the Capes bushfire season has lengthened, but a review into three escaped Forest Products Commission blazes on June 6 this year has raised serious questions about the adequacy of year-round emergency resources.

It comes as a coronial inquest into the 2015 Esperance bushfires, which killed four people, this week cited climate change and a lack of resources in regional areas to combat escaped burns as serious factors for WA Government consideration.

The internal review into the DBCA incidents found insufficient consideration was given to the availability of extra firefighting capacity in the event of an emergency.

It also revealed response times to the escape were hindered by an official standing down of “fire availability rosters” on May 22, after two of the plantation fires were lit, “after what appeared to be a season-ending cold front delivered a further 8-16mm of rain across the district”.

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“At this point, the FPC Harvest Restrictions and daily spotter schedules were also seasonally suspended,” the report said.

The move coincided with the time permanent fire personnel often took planned leave.

“Seasonal conservation employee workforce contract extensions were also due to finish at the end of May,” the report said.

It also noted, “A cold front passed across the district on 30 May 2019 resulted in strong drying winds, but failed to deliver any of the 15mm of rain forecast.”

“The scarcity of resource(s) (was) further compounded by the annual commitment Blackwood District conservation employees have to participate in work within regions remote from the South West forests,” the report said.

“The district had scaled back many daily functions and resources had diminished in line with a standard end-of-season approach.

“The three escapes occurred in the context of unusually high levels of resource commitments for May due to bushfire activity, private burn escapes, as well as the DBCA prescribed burn program.”

The DBCA said it would work with stakeholders to address the recommendations.

“DBCA is committed to managing bushfire-related risk, identifying the contributing factors to the escapes and how these factors may be better considered, accommodated and mitigated to reduce the likelihood of a re-occurrence in future burning operations of this nature.”

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