The Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) needs to make it very clear that comments attributed to the Association in this article are very specifically about some private land owners. The AVBFB believes the fire department of the Parks and Wildlife Service is an excellent resource for rural Western Australia.
Also, we welcome evidence-based debate about how best to mitigate the risk of wildfires in WA, but agree with Minister Logan that the priority is the safety and welfare of everyone involved rather than high level academic discussion while hundreds of firefighters are still battling dangerous conditions.
Lastly, the AVBFB fully supports reviews of every major incident as long as they are transparent, undertaken as opportunities for learning and not political or punitive in any way.
We would therefore welcome a review of these fires in due course, but urge the government to be aware that some interest groups might try to use such a review to support their push for all emergency services to be ‘rolled into’ the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).
Please see the article below:
Bushfires near the WA town of Albany have sparked a blame game between farmers and authorities with many questioning why prescribed burns were conducted, despite an unfavourable weather forecast and multiple warnings that conditions were about to change.
Both private landowners and the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW) had been carrying out burns in the region in recent weeks, trying to make the most of the mild autumn weather to reduce fuel loads.
Thursday’s strong winds caused many of those fires to escape, with more than 50 reportedly burning simultaneously.
As fires raged around them, some farmers took to social media to criticise DPAW, describing its prescribed burn in the Stirling Ranges as an “absolute disgrace” and accusing the department of not learning from previous mistakes.
DPAW incident controller for Torndidup and Stirling Range national parks, Drew Griffiths, said it would investigate what went wrong but defended its program.
“Whenever our department has an escape from a prescribed burn such as this, then it’s completely investigated,” he said.
“But prescribed burning is done under very strict conditions and we rely on the best technology and the best predictions for those conditions and that’s the way it was done.
“I am fully confident in my colleagues in this department for the decisions they make under prescribed burning.”
‘Irresponsible and inconsiderate’
Others directed blame at the farmers conducting their own burn offs on private land.
Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades Association president, Dave Gossage, said many landowners had ignored warnings and had put his members’ lives at risk.
“People were still going out because there was cloud cover thinking they could burn,” Mr Gossage said.
“That’s just irresponsible and very inconsiderate of their fellow man and their neighbour.
“The consequence of that was the fires got away and that was the main cause of the majority of the fires.
“Clearly the people that were burning off didn’t make any inquiries and didn’t do the right thing by their neighbours and the community.”
Bureau issued warning days ago
The weather bureau’s Neil Bennett said he was warning authorities about the fire risk at the beginning of the week.
“Really people shouldn’t have been taken by surprise by this because it was pretty much as we said it was going to happen,” he said.
“Very strong winds in the northerlies and also the potential for fire dangers to be elevated as well.
“We had a fire danger warning on Wednesday afternoon along with as a severe weather warning.”
In a statement, Fire and Emergency Services Minister, Fran Logan, said now was not the right time to examine how these blazes had got out of control, saying that would be done later.
“There has been a considerable amount of fire activity in the area, which volunteers and local authorities have worked tirelessly to address,” Mr Logan said.
“We need to deal with these blazes now, and look at how they happened when it is appropriate.
“I would also urge people of the Great Southern and South West to help our volunteers and emergency services by not lighting any more fires and making sure previous hazard burns have been properly extinguished.”
Expert questions need for burn-offs
Curtin University Professor and botanist Kingsley Dixon questioned the value of burn-offs.
“We’ve been on a juggernaut since the 1960’s believing that we protect people, property and key assets by burning the forest,” professor Dixon said.
“Prescribed burning itself is leading to greater impact… broad-scale burning has been proven to be ineffective.”
Professor Dixon said six-year rotational burns were having an unprecedented impact on the land.
He said alternatives such as improved designs around urban areas near bushland needed to be put in place to protect lives and assets.
“We only have to look at the recent increase in budget to the prescribed burning this year of $5.5 million. Over a five-year period we’re spending $250 million on burning bushland yet we’re only spending two thirds of that on suppression systems,” he said.
“Let’s get smarter about rapid detection and suppression systems.”
By Charlotte Hamlyn and Kate Leaver