A REPORT into last year's devastating Cascade and Scaddan fires has called for an overhaul of the process for preparing for and fighting fires in WA.
In particular it wants changes made to mitigation practices, legislation and the distribution of the Emergency Services Levy.
The Cascade Scaddan Fire Review, commissioned by Scaddan farmers David and Linda Campbell and Dan Sanderson and supported by Esperance community members and businesses, will be tabled in parliament today by Member for Eyre Graham Jacobs.
The report, compiled by legal firm Pacer Legal, breaks down the events that transpired leading up to and during the fire that travelled 70 kilometres, burnt 120,000 hectares and tragically resulted in the loss of four lives.
Three of those tragically killed were working for David and Linda Campbell.
They say the main message they wanted to put out to the public, and the reason they commissioned the report, was that there needs to be a change in how fires are fought in WA.
They are adamant that the motives are not about laying blame, but about fixing the way fires are fought in the future.
In relation to the Scaddan fire, the main emphasis is on the critical period from Sunday, November 15, to Tuesday, November 17, when the fire escaped from unallocated Crown land.
David Campbell said the response time to get the fire under control was too late.
"There were plenty of volunteers on hand trying to get it under control, but the equipment they had wasn't adequate," he said.
"There was a call for heavy earthmoving equipment and water bombers but by the time they were activated it was too late.
"There was one bulldozer on site on the Sunday, but the others weren't operational until Monday afternoon for one reason or another.
"By then it was too late. Any plans they had of doing back burns or putting in controlled burns was gone.
"The local fire chief called for a water bomber on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday but couldn't get one.
"We had the local crop duster pilot at the airport ready to go to help out, but he hadn't ticked all the Civil Aviation Safety Authority boxes, so he couldn't legally assist with the fire.
"The fire chief had plans one, two and three in place, but couldn't carry them out because the suitable equipment wasn't available.
"If there is a fire in Crown land farmers will go in and put it out, but we need aerial support and heavy earthmoving gear to help us."
Linda Campbell said there were photos of the fire taken at 7am on the Tuesday morning of it looking like a campfire.
"By the time it left the bush at 12 it was unstoppable in the weather conditions we had," she said.
While the recent news that two water bombers would be stationed at Esperance airport for a five-week period over this year's harvest was pleasing, the group said secondary local contractors to do this work would be a better and more cost effective alternative.
"Secondary contractors are really important, they know the local terrain and have that local knowledge," Mr Sanderson said.
The report contains a detailed timeline of the events from that Sunday and focuses on seven primary areas identified for improvement.
These areas include:
* Aerial support
* Local resources
* Emergency Services Levy
There were also 12 recommendations that came from these areas of concern (see separate breakout box).
Three key areas of focus from the report as indicated by the proponents include legislation, mitigation and the Emergency Services Levy (ESL).
In regard to mitigation, the report states that various agencies and persons are responsible for preparation and mitigation works in WA including the Department of Lands, DFES, DPAW, local government and private landholders.
A serious concern of the Campbells and Mr Sanderson is that mitigation is not happening because not enough funds are being passed down onto the ground.
"They can't do a lot (in this region) with funding they are provided.
"There is 700km of interface to be done in terms of mitigation in this area alone," Mr Sanderson said.
A concern voiced within the report is the fact that there are five bodies that can be involved in mitigation work can lead to confusion as to who is responsible for what.
A key recommendation from the report is that the Office of Bushfire Risk Management (OBRM) becomes an independent body.
The OBRM was established after a recommendation from the Keelty Report and currently is an office within DFES.
The report says that the OBRM's role is to oversee prescribed burning and bushfire-related risk management in WA.
The proponents of the report feel that if the OBRM was an independent body and in charge of mitigation it would level out some of the confusion surrounding fire mitigation.
Further to this the report suggests that greater funding should be made available for mitigation, including funding from the ESL.
Mr Sanderson said a long-term problem in controlling fires is getting decent firebreaks and access ways put in.
"That is the bottom line," he said.
"You can look at reports for the past five years and cross out Esperance and put in other town names that have been through big fires and you see the same issues arising.
"Mitigation work is a key concern raised after big fires.
"We just want to see some change made, if you can get good mitigation work done, it helps so much in being able to put fires out."
A large section of the report is devoted to the ESL and the perceived shortcomings in how it is being distributed.
The ESL is the State Government charge which is levied on rates notices issued by local government.
In the year 2015/16 there was $320.5 million in revenue raised from the ESL.
Section 38 of the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1998 (WA) provides that the ESL be applied only for the purposes of the Emergency Services Acts.
The purpose of the Emergency Services Acts are, broadly speaking, to:
* Provide for functions relating to the provision and management of emergency services;
* Make better provision for diminishing the dangers resulting from bush fires, and for the prevention, control and extinguishment of bush fires; and
* Consolidate and amend the law relating to the prevention and extinguishing of fires, the confining and ending of hazardous material incidents and the protection of life and property from fire, hazardous material incidents and accidents.
The ESL can therefore be used, in accordance with the legislation, for both mitigation and response activities.
ESL funds are forwarded directly to DFES which is responsible for distributing the funds to the appropriate place. DFES is responsible for administration of the ESL pursuant to part 6A of the Fire and Emergency Services Act.
The distribution of ESL funds was a topic covered in both the Keelty Report and the recent Ferguson Review of the Waroona fires.
The Cascade Scaddan report has labelled as one of its 12 recommendations that DFES is removed as the body responsible for the administration and distribution of the Emergency Services Levy, with these responsibilities to be transferred to an independent body.
Another recommendation within the report is that the current legislative framework governing the preparation for, mitigation of, and response to bush fires in Western Australia be simplified, with a focus on plain English and consistency.
As Pacer Legal outlined in the report there are five pieces of legislation that govern fire mitigation, prevention and response.
There are two major plans that dictate agency responsibilities in relation to mitigation and response to a bush fire; Westplan - Fire and the State Emergency Management Plan, the report states.
"The Analysis of the Plans indicates that there are a number of areas that are unclear", it said in the report.
"In particular, there are currently two streams of legislation that govern bush fires in Western Australia and which run concurrently; the Emergency Services Acts and the Emergency Management Act 2005 (WA). These must be read together.
"They must also be considered in conjunction with legislation indirectly connected with fire mitigation, prevention, and response, such as the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), the Land Administration Act 1997 (WA) and the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (WA).
"All of the persons and bodies with responsibilities under the aforementioned legislation and policies must work together in reading the legislation and the policies and thereafter administering them.
"In light of the above, the legislative framework results in confusion around the responsibilities for preparation, mitigation and response in respect of bush fires in Western Australia."
The report recommends that the current legislative framework governing the preparation for, mitigation of, and response to bush fires in Western Australia be simplified, with a focus on plain English and consistency.
Mr Campbell said from a volunteer point of view, the report is not about laying blame, it is about fixing problems in the future.
"We just want to get in and put the fire out," he said.
"That is what we do. We go and put the fires out and get on with our lives."
To view the full report go to www.avbfb.org.au