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Give us answers – Outrage over fire escape

An essential drop: this chopper was one of three on hand to help with the Hallston fire last week. According to a Parks Victoria spokesperson the fire fighting effort saw about 138 personnel battling the blaze. Along with the choppers, there were 11 tankers, five bulldozers and 22 slip-on vehicles in attendance. Estimates of the financial cost associated with the fire fight and repairs to infrastructure are yet to be made.

RESIDENTS and fire fighters have expressed anger and disbelief at DSE’s handling of a controlled burn that razed 625 hectares of land around Hallston.

The blaze threatened houses, burned grazing land, destroyed haysheds and fences. It also forced 46 residents to evacuate their homes, fleeing to the safety of relatives and friends.

DSE refused to say whether State Government pressure to meet burn targets – with a requirement the planned burn be conducted by April 30 (subject to suitable weather conditions) approaching fast – had led to the decision to act last week, nor whether a rumour that the CFA had advised against the planned burn, was true.

CFA Hallston brigade secretary Jordan Grasser said the first planned burn undertaken by DSE on Monday, March 25, was “excellent” and lit in the right conditions. However, a subsequent burn on the Tuesday was ill-advised and contradicted the information given to CFA, he said.

“They told our brigade that they weren’t going to light up again on Tuesday, we weren’t needed. They then went in and lit up on that morning, knowing what the weather was like,” he said.

“We were then called out that afternoon, at 4.15 to assist DSE. They debriefed us as we watched the fire start to climb up the trees. It was out of control at that point.”

Mr Grasser informed ABC radio the fire was more than what they had reported. Rather than just a fire, it was a planned DSE burn that was out of control.

Mr Grasser lost 400m of fencing and 10 acres of farming land in the blaze, but knows that his neighbours have fared worse.

“DSE’ll say they needed to do it, but they didn’t need to do what they did on Tuesday. We’re not happy,” he said.

Hallston dairy farmer Frank Dekker described Tuesday as a “very, very scary night” for his family. They were among those forced to evacuate as the blaze roared toward them. But many farmers in the area were too upset to speak.

The fire was officially contained on Monday, April 1. According to a Parks Victoria spokesperson the fire fighting effort saw about 138 personnel battling the blaze, assisted three choppers, 11 tankers, five bulldozers and 22 slip-on vehicles. Estimates of the financial cost associated with the fire fight and repairs to infrastructure are yet to be made.

DSE chaired a heated meeting at the Hallston Hall last Thursday night, where residents attacked the lack of emergency warnings. Another meeting will be held tonight (Wednesday, April 3).

One person who attended the Thursday night meeting said he was happy with how quickly DSE had acted to fix fences and deliver hay. Like many others though, he is keen to see the government department figure out what went wrong.

“The burn was started on Monday afternoon when conditions were suitable to conduct a burn, but broke containment lines on Tuesday afternoon when strong wind blew embers out of the boundary, creating a fire outside the burn area,” a DSE spokesperson told The Star.

The spokesperson confirmed the fire was relit on the Tuesday and broke containment lines.

“Early in the week provided good conditions for DSE and Parks Victoria to do vital planned burning to reduce fuel loads on public land. Planned burns are carried out only when we assess the weather and fuel conditions as suitable, however there are always risks that a burn may breach control lines,” she said.

“There are processes in place to make sure every burn is conducted as safely as possible, and burns are patrolled until they are considered safe.

“DSE and Parks Victoria work closely with the Bureau of Meteorology and we only start a burn after assessing the fuel moisture and weather conditions, such as humidity, temperature and wind speed, as suitable.”

The spokesperson said Victoria’s weather “is the biggest challenge for the planned burning program, as there are only a few windows of opportunity each year to carry out burns we need to do whenever the conditions are assessed as suitable”.

“A review of why this incident occurred will be conducted as standard practice,” she said.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=6838

Posted by on Apr 3 2013. Filed under Featured, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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