I first submitted this as a personal submission, but it was subsequently endorsed by the committee as representing the view of the FOGG committee. We have been invited to speak to the inquiry on July 3. The same submission was also sent to the “People’s Review”. Judging from the tenor of that review it seems unlikely that it was popular and I have not received any response from them.
bq.. I wish to make several observations about the Mt Lubra fire, particularly the policies and practices of Parks Vic and DSE prior to the fires.
* While there are always things that may have been done better, I do not agree that any blame for the Mt Lubra fire should be levelled at the local park management, or DSE or indeed the CFA. It was a tragedy both for the Park and the surrounding countryside that the fire was so fast and so fierce. We all grieve for the loss of human and animal life, the homes, the businesses, the rare habitats. I wish that it could have been prevented. But because of the prolonged drought, the weather before and during the fire, and the terrain, I do not believe that once the fire started that any different plan of attack would have made much difference. It must be remembered planned burns in the previous years had had to be cancelled because of the prolonged dry weather; access tracks were not an issue; and this fire spotted so far ahead that wider fire breaks would have been of no use.
* It is important to note that the Stawell Deep Lead fire of December 31, just 2 weeks earlier and also probably started by a lightning strike, travelled at a similar fast rate first through privately owned grazing country, then through forest which had little ground fuel because it was regularly available for firewood collection. This fire also crossed the western highway and both the Stawell- Halls Gap and the Stawell- Pomonal roads, destroying homes and pastures.
* While I welcome community consultation and input into fire operations planning, it is most important that the informed views of those people within government departments with specialist knowledge are given appropriate weight. It is very understandable that local groups, both pro and anti current burning regimes, want their voices heard – they do indeed have years of valuable local knowledge, but decision making must balance folk knowledge with current research and information from further afield.
* Fire clearly has an important role in the cycle of the Australian bush. There is still a lot be learned about optimal fire regimes. Quality monitoring pre and post burns is vitally important and the government must budget sufficient funds for this work.
* Unfortunately there is a community perception that Park staff and “greenies” are against controlled burns. While this may have had some validity a few years ago, it is not true now. But what is important is that the burning, particularly in zones 2 and 3, is done in a manner that minimises the damage to the environment, and where possible, enhances the environment. The guidelines on suitable conditions for ignition should be adhered to in order to ensure that the Park has a patchwork of vegetation of different ages.
I do not want this submission to be lengthy so will close with a couple of further points.
* I have huge admiration for the efforts of the fire fighters. The discipline and dedication of both the CFA and the DSE teams was great.
* The work done by the counsellors from agencies such as Grampians Community Health Centre, the Shires, and the churches, and the services provided by the Emergency Services Commissioner and his staff were very necessary and very well done.
* Fire recovery works carried out in the GNP to date have been excellent,but further funding is desperately needed in order to complete these works. The damage caused by a fire of this magnitude cannot be rectified in a single year, and while work remains undone areas of the Park stay closed. In fact recently 15 fire recovery crew members who were employed rebuilding damaged infrastructure were stood down with less than 50% of the asset replacement program completed. This is a great National Park, one that is now listed as a world heritage site. It is vital that funding be made available for restoration works to be completed as soon as possible so that the Park can be completely re-opened.
* Ongoing research into the effects of the fire on different ecological systems is an essential tool for better understanding of fire management. Adequate funding for this must be provided on a long term basis.