Bushfire protection agencies told to get on the same page

End the infighting to get better bushfire protection and control says report

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NEVER AGAIN: The NSW Bushfire Inquiry Report says all agencies involved in fire protection and fighting need to work more closely to prevent a repeat of last summer's horror bushfires.

NEVER AGAIN: The NSW Bushfire Inquiry Report says all agencies involved in fire protection and fighting need to work more closely to prevent a repeat of last summer's horror bushfires.

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The NSW Government has accepted all 76 recommendations of its independent inquiry into last summer's bushfires.

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The final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry highlighted the need to stop infighting between the state's key agencies involved in the state's fire mitigation and fighting program.

It also recommended the increased use of hazard reduction and mechanical clearing by councils and their agency partners to protect local properties, towns, villages and strategic assets in fire-prone areas.

Individuals in fire-prone areas would become responsible for making their properties as safe as possible through burning and vegetation clearing with the process audited by local councils.

Enough RFS mitigation crews should be available to help property owners carry out their fire protection plans.

Those recommendations would have amused some frustrated landholders in regions like the Blue Mountains who have continually hit a brick wall when trying to get approvals to do hazard-reduction burns and clear native vegetation.

The inquiry was ordered last January by the NSW Premier Gladys Berejklian after megafires ripped through 5.5 million hectares of the state killing 26 people, destroying 2476 homes and causing $900 million in infrastructure losses.

The inquiry was conducted by former NSW Police deputy commissioner Dave Owens and former NSW chief scientist Professor Mary O'Kane and all 76 recommendations have been accepted by the state government.

ACCEPTED IN FULL: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian accepted all 76 recommendations of the final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

ACCEPTED IN FULL: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian accepted all 76 recommendations of the final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

While their report didn't lay all the blame for last summer's horrific fires on anybody's door step, it's overriding message was that every step must be taken to ensure there is never a repeat.

The report acknowledged the severity of the fires was unprecedented due to the long drought leading up to an extremely hot and dry summer. When weather conditions were catastrophic nothing could stop the fires.

But it warned fire seasons like 2019-20 or worse can be expected in the future because of rising temperatures and climate change and the state needed to be properly prepared before each new fire season.

The report raised a number of community perceptions and concerns about public land managers including the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Forestry Corporation of NSW for being "bad neighbours" with a poor attitude to hazard reduction which had contributed to the size and severity of fires.

It recommended the Rural Fires Act be amended so that all public land management agencies be required to forward all complaints about bushfire hazards to the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) commissioner.

The report said the network of 75,000 kms of fire trails including 31,000 kms in the state's 7.2 million ha of national parks was "inadequate" for the 2019-20 season.

Legislative changes after parliamentary and coronial inquiries into the disastrous Wambelong fire in the Warrumbungles National Park in 2013 empowered the NSW RFS to improve, standardise and integrate the state's fire trail network but less than 20pc of local Bush Fire Management Committees (BFMCs) now have approved fire trail plans.

Members of BFMCs (whose members include key fire and public land agencies, councils and private landholders) oversee local hazard-reduction priorities and protection of community assets.

The report found they were often involved in tug-of-wars over land management philosophies, statutory objectives and which agency was accountable for funding and mitigation work.

"The ability of BFMCs to manage these tensions and achieve their fire risk management objectives is highly variable," it said.

It was not acceptable that unresolved issues were inhibiting the adequate protection of NSW communities from bushfire risks.

The inquiry found BFMCs must be forced to refer their unresolved issues to the over-arching Bush Fire Co-ordinating Committee (BFCC), chaired by the NSW RFS commissioner, for speedy resolution.

Currently 16 of the 61 five-year bushfire risk management plans managed by the BFMCs were overdue and eight drafts had been submitted for review, the report said.

The inquiry said the BFCC should ensure all bushfire management plans, operation co-ordination plans and fire access and fire trail plans were compliant but hadn't done any performance audits for the past eight years.

While taking a lukewarm attitude to the merits of broad-scale hazard-reduction burning in the landscape as a tool for preventing wildfires, the report said more prescribed burning was needed around villages, towns and key infrastructure to reduce property losses.

Regional hazard-reduction targets needed to be set, properly communicated to local people and then rigorously achieved.

It also recommended fire agencies make a priority of suppressing new fire ignitions as fast as possible using improved remote sensing technology to locate them quickly and water bombers to stop them from growing into mega blazes.

The report also called for a serious evaluation of Aboriginal land management practices which included cultural burning.

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