OUT-OF-CONTROL bush fires, believed to be deliberately started, have ripped through station country

25 Oct, 2006 08:45 PM
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In most cases, the fires are left to burn because they are in areas too remote and inaccessible.

The fires are not an isolated incident in the Kimberley; it is an annual occurrence with Environmen-tal Protection Authority (EPA) figures showing that in 2004 more than 30pc of the vast region was burnt.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) pastoral director Edgar Richardson said pastoralists were almost at the end of their tether.

³It is a real concern,² Mr Richardson said.

³The perception is that if the fires are allowed to continue, it will put people out of business.

³They have burnt out a lot of feed.²

The PGA held a meeting last week to address the problem and is in close consultation with the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA).

Pastoralists conduct their own strategic burning, and when done at the right time and followed with rain it produces nutritious green pasture.

If the fire is not followed by rain, it can have detrimental effects on the landscape.

Mr Richardson said many of the fires appeared to have been deliberately lit, with a fire pattern emerging from the stations with indigenous communities on them.

The EPA was asked to conduct a review in July 2005 by former environment minister Judy Edwards, into the environmental impacts of the fires in the region.

That report is due next month, but a preliminary issues paper stated the majority of fires in the Kimberley were lit by people.

It stated that Aboriginal communities often started fires for cultural reasons, such as hunting, regenerating or protecting bush food plants, cleaning out campsites and making access easier.

However, many pastoralists claim that fire is used deliberately by some Aboriginal communities as retribution for certain actions, such as dog baiting, according to the EPA.

FESA Kimberley regional services director Robert Cox said controlling the fires was not a single-faceted issue.

Mr Cox said FESA was looking at better ways to stop people from lighting fires, and although they had seen some results, there was still a long way to go.

He said they were working with many strategies to better understand cultural burning by Aboriginal communities.

³We are working with pastoralists and the remote indigenous community ‹ which is tougher,² Mr Cox said.

³Education and community involvement needs to be far better managed because of the larger communities and growing number of tourists.²

The Kimberley area is made up of four shires and 120 pastoral stations, over which FESA has six managers and 14 volunteer units.

Mr Cox said there were two main areas FESA was working on to reduce fires: stopping the intensity and reducing the frequency.

He said individuals had their own role in fire prevention.

³Pastoralists have two issues they need to protect: their physical assets and pastures,² Mr Cox said.

³Their role is to monitor their own property and implement hazard control measures.

³We are there to assist where we can.²

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