Bushfire review slams FESA

29 Jun, 2011 01:50 PM
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A REVIEW into the devastating fires south of Perth earlier this year has criticised coordination between emergency services and a lack of fire appliances and training, while calling for areas of the Darling Escarpment to be declared bushfire prone.

The Fire and Emergency Services Authority said it would review operational procedures and implement key changes following the independent report into the devastating fires at Lake Clifton, Red Hill and Roleystone in January and February which claimed dozens of houses.

FESA was criticised over its warning systems after Lake Clifton residents complained they were given just 10 minutes to evacuate before the fire engulfed nine homes and a granny flat.

The review, conducted by fire management expert Stuart Ellis, found FESA lacked situational awareness and had inappropriately appointed a non-accredited incident controller to a level-three fire without regard to experience, competency and currency.

FESA needed to place greater priority on the appointment of safety advisors to major incidents and review training, the report says.

Mr Ellis praised the decision to evacuate residents at Roleystone, which he said was a deliberate operational decision that took into account the conditions on the day and exposures to the fire.

But in response to claims that some warnings came too late, he recommended issuing initial StateAlert messages with broad advice, followed by more detailed messages.

Lake Clifton, Red Hill and Roleystone areas should be declared "bushfire prone", and failing to do so inhibited FESA's operational response.

Mr Ellis said being formally declared a bushfire zone offered benefits to both residents and local government.

“It’s a formal recognition that they are in an area prone to bushfire. It means that if they build in those areas then they’ve got to meet specific Australian standards. It may require that they need water storage tanks and other prevention strategies. And to assist local government with their planning decisions to do with roadways and things like vegetation," he said.

Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Margaret Quirk said such a move would have insurance implications.

Ms Quirk said the report showed lessons had not been learnt from a fire in the Boorabbin National Park, west of Kalgoorlie, in 2007, when three truck drivers died after being allowed to drive on the Great Eastern Highway through the blazing area.

"FESA should have had teams ready to go," she told radio 6PR.

"[There were some] delays caused by getting incident management teams together at a time when the fire had already started."

The report also questioned whether FESA's principal objective of saving lives had meant it was too conservative in allowing residents to stay and defend their properties.

“Some people stayed to protect their properties, successfully. Arguably a lot of people may have been able to do that. Those areas hadn’t been declared bushfire prone and a lot of measures hadn’t been taken, which could enhance survivability.”

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