Smokescreen

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Smokescreen

Looking forward: Hallston farmer Gary Harris and pasture resown after the fire.

THE cost of containing the Hallston fire in March and the subsequent clean-up will not be made public.

The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) last Thursday revealed the outcomes of a review into why the planned burn of the Hallston Bush ran out of control and destroyed private property.

The review found the fire was lit in “extreme fuel hazards”, and staff should have taken greater account of nearby fuel hazards and the proximity of private property.

But a department spokesperson said the DEPI did not monitor the cost of containing the blaze that destroyed 625ha of private and public land, nor the clean-up, adding the cost of extinguishing fires was not typically monitored.

The containment effort spanned four days and entailed 138 Department of Sustainability and Environment, Parks Victoria and CFA personnel, three helicopters, 11 tankers, five bulldozers and 22 slip-on vehicles.

The clean-up involved repairing 17 km of fencing and resowing many hectares of pasture.

The blaze forced 46 residents to evacuate their homes.

The review was undertaken by the DEPI, which replaced the DSE, despite Hallston residents calling for an independent investigation.

Hallston resident Uwe Ross, who witnessed the fire from his home, said the cost should be revealed.

“Who is being made accountable for the cost of their irresponsible actions?” he said.

“If you or I lit the fire, we would go to jail for it. They lit the fire when fire restrictions were still on.”

Mr Ross said the DEPI’s review should have been undertaken by parties independent of the DEPI.

“They are going to cover themselves whichever way it goes and it was a bit stupid for them to be doing the assessment,” he said.

The burn by the former DSE on March 26 escaped from the Hallston Bush, part of the Mirboo North Regional Park, fanned by strong winds and warm weather.

The review findings were released to Hallston residents at an information meeting last Thursday.

But Mr Ross was not told about the meeting despite being the closest resident to where the DSE initially lit two fires. Ironically, the review found communication between levels of command during the fire was inadequate.

“I questioned why they acted so irresponsibly at the time given the weather forecast was for two hot days and the wind was coming up,” Mr Ross said.

Hallston farmer Gary Harris, who lost 21 paddocks to the fire, was surprised the meeting was not more widely advertised. He received notification by mail.

“It sounds like they wanted to finalise this and get out of it as quickly as possible,” Mr Harris said.

The review was undertaken by four experienced DEPI staff beyond Gippsland and not connected with the burn.

The review found the fire was conducted “in marginal conditions in an area with high fuel loads”, despite a risk assessment being undertaken before the blaze was lit.

“The dryness of the soil meant that ground fuels were fully available to burn and there was an increase in availability of elevated fuels including plants under drought stress with additional dead material,” a DEPI report stated.

The review found the decision to proceed with the burn was based on sampling part of the burn conditions, but did not consider significant amounts of wire grass in the broader burn area.

“The burn could not be controlled within the prescriptions chosen,” the report stated.

The review also found more strategic consideration should be given to the scheduling of planned burns and the timing of other adjacent burns, and nearby fuel hazards.

DEPI Gippsland land and fire regional manager Grange Jephcott said: “In summary what we have learnt is that we need to do a broader analysis of the specific risks involved before, during and after the burn, and make sure those risks are communicated thoroughly to the people involved in the burn at all levels.

“With careful planning, preparation and management few burns cause problems, but planned burning will always have risks. However less than two per cent of burns breach control lines.

“We understand that the resulting bushfire was concerning to the community and we undertook this review of events to examine how we can improve our processes.”

As a result of the review, actions will be implemented at local and state levels.

All damaged fence lines have been removed and fencing repairs are being completed.

Rehabilitation of control lines and resowing of control lines on private property is underway. Local crews have helped feed stock and replaced 130 round bales of hay.

Recovery manager Mick Dortmans, based at the DEPI’s Leongatha office, said contractors will replace all burnt fence poles on private land, whether totally destroyed or partially burnt.

“It’s certainly been a mammoth task but quite complex with a reasonable amount of issues but on the whole, it’s been successful and the landholders are happy with the outcome,” he said.

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Posted by on Jun 4 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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