Bushfire season disaster waiting to happen

29 Oct, 2011 02:00 AM
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THE standard of fire management in WA has declined to a dangerous level, according to former Department of Conservation and Land Management boss Roger Underwood.

Mr Underwood (pictured), who has 40 years experience in fire management, warned the conditions were ripe for a repeat of the devastating bushfires of recent years.

Mr Underwood now chairs lobby group The Bushfire Front and met with new FESA boss Wayne Gregson this week to discuss the group's concerns.

He said if urgent action wasn't taken, rural WA could be facing a fire disaster worse than the 2010 Toodyay fire which destroyed 38 homes.

Mr Underwood said the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) was consistently failing to meet its targets for prescribed burns and coupled with high rainfall, excess grassland on private properties and a lack of preparedness in some communities, it meant firefighters could be in for a tough summer.

"Fuel loads in native forests have built up over the last decade," he said. "Every summer is bad in WA but the situation is getting worse every year."

He said the DEC's job was made harder by the community complaints about smoke, which tended to accompany controlled burns every year.

Mr Underwood welcomed Wayne Gregson's commitment to overhauling FESA and hoped it would mean an end to what he described as the agency's "suppression only" approach to bushfires.

"The problem is FESA has been a response organisation," he said. "We need a completely different philosophy in FESA, we need to focus on preparedness, to focus on ways to ensure less damage is done."

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