Tasmanian Times

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What can we learn from the 2019 fires?

The Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association (HVRRA) contacted all its members last week asking for feedback about their experiences during the recent fires. Several useful suggestions were offered and consistently Huon Valley Council and volunteer firefighters were singled out for thanks and praise.

One question that came up time and again in this survey was, ‘How did a small fire, that stayed that way for a few days, get so totally out of control?’

HVRRA president, Patrick Synge, said ‘There has been lots of speculation about this on social media. Some of the stories sound quite far-fetched but some sound very credible. Whatever; there are always lessons to be learned from events like this and the best time to collect relevant information is while memories are still fresh. We’ve been extremely lucky this time with relatively few houses damaged and no lives lost. But it could easily have been so very much worse. A real wake up call. And we must not forget that it was only the arrival of unexpected and unseasonal rain and cool weather that prevented what could have been a major disaster. Yes, we dodged a bullet this time but all predictions are for hotter and drier conditions in years to come. We are calling on the State government to establish a Public Inquiry to identify what worked well and what was less successful. Each fire event is different and there are always new lessons to be learned. This is not about finger-pointing, it’s about learning. In order to be better prepared in the future.’

HVRRA points out that this event affected every resident of the Huon Valley municipality (and further afield) to a greater or lesser extent. The immediate and ongoing costs have yet to be calculated but it seems clear that this will be at least a hundred million dollars and maybe more, so the relatively small cost of a Public Inquiry that might help us and other communities be better prepared and equipped for future fire events should be considered a good investment.

Mr Synge went on to say, ‘We agree with Wayne Johnston, President of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, who stated “that some of the self-evident logistical issues and cultural differences between agencies and volunteers need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We cannot go into another fire season without adequately resolving these issues” and, like the TFGA, we are seeking from the Tasmanian Government “a genuine commitment to learn from and resolve any issues that have arisen in this recent crisis.”’

Businesses, large and small, throughout the area have been impacted. More than 35,000ha of private forest estate has burnt along with significant damage to timber processing facilities and tourism infrastructure. More than 200,000ha of land has been scorched. The hidden damage to residents’ (and especially firefighters’) health from breathing the smoke over an extended period cannot be accurately assessed but is likely to lead to an increase in health expenditure in years to come: without even considering the human costs.

The impact on the World Heritage Area has yet to be fully assessed but it seems clear that much of the unique vegetation has been burnt. Some will regrow but some may never regenerate. The impact on wildlife in all the burnt areas will probably never be quantified.

HVRRA is therefore requesting a Public Inquiry into the bushfires and has suggested Terms of Reference which can be found on the association’s website www.huonvalley.org.au or the HVRRA Facebook page.

[1]  ToR

The Inquiry should seek to identify measures that can be implemented by governments, government agencies, industry and the community to minimise the incidence of bushfires and their impacts on life, property, the environment, the economy and the community with specific regard to the following.

 

(a)        the extent and impact of the bushfires on the environment, private and public assets and local communities;

(b)        the causes of and risk factors contributing to the impacts and severity of the bushfires, including land management practices and policies in the TWWHA, State forests, other Crown land and private property;

(c)        the adequacy and economic and environmental impact of hazard reduction and other strategies for bushfire prevention, suppression and control;

(d)        any alternative bushfire mitigation and prevention approaches, and the appropriate direction of research into bushfire mitigation;

(e)        the adequacy of current response arrangements for firefighting;

(f)        the adequacy of deployment of firefighting resources, including an examination of the efficiency and effectiveness of resource sharing between agencies and jurisdictions;

(g)        the roles and contributions of volunteers, including current management practices and future trends, taking into account changing social and economic factors.

 

HVRRA acknowledges the valuable information contained in the 2013 Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Bushfire and Climate Change Research Project Report and maintains that a Public Inquiry into the 2019 fires would usefully build on this knowledge and help both the community and firefighting agencies to better prepare for future events.

 

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Mike Seabrook

    February 22, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    expect that the problem would be minimised if the insurance companies as a rule charged higher risk premiums (and or had large excesses) where houses are built within 100 – 120 metres of 1 ha areas of bush/forest. and even larger distances for high value industries etc.. eg. taa ann – wonder how taa ann was placed for insurance.

  2. MJF

    February 22, 2019 at 8:17 pm

    Here’s three more TORs:

    What’s been recommended in previous bushfire inquiries that hasn’t been implemented, and why ?

    Why can’t Tasmania afford a dedicated heavy lift helicopter kitted for fire suppression .. on annual charter, as a minimum ?

    Why aren’t RATs deployed for mopping up with their hand-tools after an aerial attack being the first response ?

  3. HVRRA

    February 21, 2019 at 8:48 am

    Thanks, Russell.
    That “not enough was done for a few days” may be obvious but the reason why is not so obvious.
    Were there inter-agency issues?
    Was it not considered a significant threat?
    How is fire threat analysis conducted?
    Has the State Government implemented the recommendations contained in previous reports?
    Are sufficient resources made available before a fire becomes a threat to built structures?

    These are among the many questions that a Public Inquiry should ask.

    For the moment the best the government is offering is a “review with input from experts” with Michael Ferguson suggesting that merely calling for a Public Inquiry is “political grandstanding” or “opportunism”.

    • Russell

      February 22, 2019 at 8:05 am

      I gave you the reason why. The State Government sat on its hands until the fires were big enough to get Federal funding.

      AND .. they didn’t bring in the large water bombers!

      • Mike Seabrook

        February 22, 2019 at 10:56 pm

        if the feds paid tassie to build hydro dams and to chop down trees rather than pay tassie to not build dams and to not chop down trees, fire management would be much easier and the main street of huonville may even be floodproofed if a hydro dam on the lower huon were built.

        if lands cannot be properly managed and insurance payments justified they should be considered for sale to people who would pay council rates etc.

        • Russell

          February 23, 2019 at 9:07 am

          For the last time Mike, the dams already existing in the middle of all these wildfires didn’t help one iota did they?

          Removing trees adds to CO2 in the atmosphere which contributes to Global Warming. Global Warming means more wildfires. Global Warming also means less rainfall overall, and too much in one hit when it does rain. Global Warming has caused rain patterns to change.

          Build a dam here or there one year because it rains there might not apply the next. Meanwhile you’ve destroyed the carbon sinks and ecology, adding to Global Warming and biodiversity loss.

          Try working WITH nature and not against it. You’re only going to lose otherwise, guaranteed.

  4. max

    February 20, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    I have seen houses burnt to the ground, houses with green lawns and no trees. These houses burned when there wasn’t a fire in close proximity. They burned because a hot ember lodged under their eves. It is possible it was a starling bird’s nest that an ember ignited .. who knows?

    The point I am trying to make is no fuel reduction burn would have saved these houses. Hot embers can be airborne for hundreds of metres, and they jump from one fuel source to another. Nothing can stop a catastrophic fire under the right conditions .. except extinguishing it before it becomes a danger.

    For far too long we have had trained foresters who think a fuel reduction burn is the answer .. when clearly it isn’t.

    All fuel reduction burns do is give false confidence to people, a dangerous false confidence that may kill them. FRB have lured our government into a false sense of security, and it freely gives money to forestry for fire protection in a mistaken belief that they know only what forestry tells them, and forestry should know better.

    We have all read what these dangerous, burn, burn, burn supporters have claimed.

    “Since 2012 there have been several major bushfires in Tasmania, which have led to widespread damage including 119,200 hectares in 2012-2013 (including 44,700 hectares in the Giblin River area), 126,800 hectares across Tasmania in 2016 and the current fires that have consumed about 200,000 hectares in wilderness, National Park and reserve areas (2019).”

    490,700 hectares across Tasmania since 2012, that’s in the last 7 years. How many extra hectares could be added to this total from minor bush fires, fuel reduction burns and regeneration burns?

    490,700 hectares across Tasmania in the last 7 years .. and still they cling to to the impossible dream of FRB.

  5. Simon Warriner

    February 20, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    Pat … The terms of reference can be shortened. Try this:

    Why did each fire grow beyond the size of one hectare? What needs to happen to ensure that none do?

    Apply those questions to every fire and the answers will tell us what we need to do. The route you are taking leaves far too much room for those responsible to actually avoid the responsibility for their performance.

    One definition of “political correctness” is ‘advancing the proposition that it is possible to pick a turd up by the clean end’.

    Decisions were made in the Revoiux Road fire incident that resulted in a little fire getting big enough to fight properly, with all the bells and whistles of a campaign fire.

    Individuals made those decisions. They have names, positions and responsibilities.

    It certainly looks like they mucked up.

    Actions need to be explained, justified if possible, and apologised for if not. The people involved need to be seen, heard and observed while they are being questioned. If their actions are found to be wanting then fingers should indeed be pointed at them.

    It may be politically correct to not point fingers, but one of the defining problems of the current age is the lack of accountability for major mistakes, especially in public administration. Without the example of individuals suffering serious public rebuke when their actions are inadequate, what hope do we have of improving the standards of performance? Surely you do not think they are adequate? There is no clean end!

    Further, a read of the recommendations generated by the Dunalley inquiry leaves one with the very clear impression that those responsible for implementing the recommendations are of the view that recommendations are something to get around to when they feel like it. This is our elected government’s problem to fix, and unfortunately its performance inspires no confidence at all. Any confidence I might have had got lost at King island airport along with Roger Jaensch’s flight back to Hobart a couple of years ago.

    Any inquiry that does happen should start as it means to go on, and learn from a Dunalley inquiry mistake by NOT seconding a senior member of any body appearing before it as it’s gatekeeper.

    Only a party politician could have agreed to THAT conflict of interests.

    • Huon Valley

      February 20, 2019 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks, Simon, for your suggestions.

      You will note that we are suggesting that any inquiry should be headed by an interstate member of the judiciary, and for obvious reasons.

      You have put forward (elsewhere) some very precise details about the evolution of the Revaux Road fire. Can you confirm that you have evidence to back these up? If so, it would be great if you could contact HVRRA with details since we will be following up on our call for a Public Inquiry.

      Thanks.

    • HVRRA

      February 20, 2019 at 8:27 pm

      Thanks, Simon.

      Perhaps you would like to contact HVRRA direct (via our website) with details of what you actually know about the evolution of the Riveaux Road fire.

      • Simon Warriner

        February 21, 2019 at 5:05 am

        Pat, if can get the Editor to flick me your email details I will send what I have.

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        Simon, try https://huonvalleydotorgdotau.wordpress.com/

        — Moderator

    • Russell

      February 21, 2019 at 8:51 am

      Hear hear, Simon.

      Just as the floods in Townsville were largely avoidable, so were the wildfires in Tasmania.

  6. Russell

    February 20, 2019 at 9:00 am

    In NSW, people have already been charged, convicted and fined for deliberately lighting the fires which led to their recent bushfires.

    To my knowledge the morons in Waratah who lit two fires on a total fire ban day (Straya Day) .. one after the firies had already put out the first, haven’t been charged yet.

    WHY NOT?

    How are we going to prevent such ignorant stupidity occurring year after year if no-one is punished for their actions?

  7. Russell

    February 20, 2019 at 8:46 am

    ‘How did a small fire, that stayed that way for a few days, get so totally out of control?’

    By doing nothing (or not enough) about it for a few days when it was small! Isn’t that obvious?

    Is there anyone in this state with a couple of brain cells they could scratch together?

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