More work to come yet, say Owens, O'Kane

Faster detection to keep fires small, first

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SIX months after the ocean stopped fires at Eden and before recent rains Kiah Inlet recorded very little regrowth. The NSW Bushfire Inquiry was critical of national park and crown land management. Photo: JAMIE BROWN

SIX months after the ocean stopped fires at Eden and before recent rains Kiah Inlet recorded very little regrowth. The NSW Bushfire Inquiry was critical of national park and crown land management. Photo: JAMIE BROWN

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The state government says it will adopt all 76 recommendations from the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

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THE ability to rapidly respond to fires when they first start is a priority, say Dave Owens and Mary O'Kane, who were asked to lead the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

They wrote in their executive summary addressed to Premier Gladys Berejiklian: "There is a need for much more research into firefighting strategies including improving capabilities for immediate detection, especially in remote areas, and fast responses to keep new fires small.

"There is a need for more research into traditional firefighting techniques, like backburning, and we need to understand and predict better when fires might escalate into dangerous, extreme fires that require firefighters to leave the fireground," they wrote.

See also: Backburning is not for everyone: brigade captain

That no-one yet fully understands exactly what happened in every location and every weather, terrain and vegetation type in our last fire season means more work is needed, the NSW Bushfire Inquiry report said. The authors, former NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Owens and Professor O'Kane, said the inquiry would be a success if it was surperseded, because more research could better inform the state's approach to managing and responding to bushfires.

They said current technology had to be pushed to its limits of capability.

A GUNNEDAH crew works to extinguish a grass fire in 2018. Photo: Ben Jaffrey

A GUNNEDAH crew works to extinguish a grass fire in 2018. Photo: Ben Jaffrey

"THERE are important firefighting enhancements needed - more emphasis on getting fires out early; improved back burning protocols; training and information around heavy plant use; the right use of aerial fire fighting assets and; increased aerial night fire fighting," they wrote.

"Central to the way forward must be improving local preparedness and resilience."

The authors drew attention to Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre chief executive Richard Thornton's comments when he offered an explanation of the quantam shift needed to improve bushfire outcomes.

"To pursue the same path is tacitly to say there are an acceptable number of deaths, injuries and property losses from bushfires in Australia each year," Mr Thornton was quoted by The Australian newspaper as saying.

The death of firefighter Samuel McPaul, who died while battling the Green Valley fire on December 30 last year, was unnacceptable, said the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, as is anyone's death. Photo: RFS

The death of firefighter Samuel McPaul, who died while battling the Green Valley fire on December 30 last year, was unnacceptable, said the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, as is anyone's death. Photo: RFS

"THE NSW Inquiry thinks it is inevitable that there will be future property losses, given the settlement patterns in NSW and legacy development issues," wrote Owens and O'Kane.

"But loss of life is never acceptable and firefighters' lives should not be put at risk to defend property.

"Recognising and accepting what can be defended and what can't be during an extreme fire season may require a big cultural shift for both the fire services and the community," they wrote.

"Many government systems need to be improved, especially strengthening cross-agency accountability and governance; training; being more strategic in our land use, planning to account for bushfire; and better managing critical infrastructure including fire trails and roads to minimise property and asset damage."

The NSW government has said it will adopt all of the inquiry's 76 recommendations.

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