The Mirror News

Preparations stepped up for bushfire season

SPRING burns could be on the agenda for Department of Sustainability and Environment and Parks Victoria staff, weather permitting.

“We tend to not get much spring burning done in this district – it’s generally too wet or windy – but if the weather conditions are right we might do some fuel reduction burns around Foster, finish one off at Grantville and burn a few debris heaps,” said Foster-based DSE fire management officer David Gallacher.

Spring burns are becoming more necessary than ever as a supplement to the far more common autumn burns, with the government, in the wake of the Black Saturday fires, significantly increasing its fuel reduction burn target.

The government announced last week that it would accept in full or in part 66 of the 67 recommendations of the Royal Commission inquiring into the fires of February 2009.

A non-compulsory acquisition by the State of land in bushfire prone areas is the only recommendation which the government has totally rejected, basing its decision on expert advice and feedback from the community.

A doubling, and eventually a tripling, of fuel reduction burns, is one of the key measures that the government is taking in its bid to make Victoria safer from the bushfire threat.

The government is also promising:

  • Hundreds more firefighters;
  • A significant Increase in support for volunteer firefighters;
  • New fire mapping technology for faster and more accurate community warnings;
  • More funding to accelerate the roll-out of more Neighbourhood Safer Places;
  • A tougher maintenance regime for electricity businesses and high visibility arson operations;
  • Replacement of the Fire Services Levy with a progressive property-based levy and improvements to planning controls in bushfire-prone areas; and
  • A major boost to community education and information about preparing for bushfires, including the introduction of bushfire education in the school curriculum.

The Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Gavin Jennings, said that the government would be investing $382.4 million in additional funding to a staged increase in the amount of planned burning from 130,000 to 275,000 hectares or five per cent of treatable public land, by 2013-14.

Following a review of the effectiveness of this program, the government will grow the program to achieve 385,000 hectares by 2015-16. This will include employing 170 new permanent DSE firefighting staff and 231 seasonal firefighters to assist in the fire preparation and fire suppression effort;

“We have listened to communities, fire experts and key stakeholders before making this decision and we believe committing to the rolling 385,000 hectare target is one of the keys to making Victoria safer from bushfires,” said Mr Jennings.

“All the experts agree it is impossible to simply jump from the current level of planned burning to 385,000 hectares and that a progressive approach needs to be taken that includes careful planning and research.

“This fire season we will move to 200,000 hectares, the following year 225,000, with 250,000 achieved the year after that and in 2014 we will reach 275,000 hectares. This will amount to five per cent of treatable public land.”

Mr Jennings said that while increasing the target was important, the government would also focus on producing better science and modelling to ensure the burning is the most effective in protecting human life as well as preserving the ecological values of our environment.

“We know we have to burn bigger, but we also know we have to burn better and more effectively by taking a strategic approach,” he said.

“New measures, such as monitoring and assessment programs, will be introduced to show the direct benefit of the burning program in the areas that need the most protection.

“This will include biodiversity monitoring, assessing the effectiveness of the burning program on the bushfire risk to communities and impacts on industry and work that will show how targeted smaller burning in high risk areas can be more beneficial than large-scale burns where there is no direct protection to lives and properties.”

The Premier, John Brumby, said the Victorian Government would prepare a full implementation plan for these reforms in coming weeks and be guided by emergency services agencies and departments about what steps could practically be taken ahead of the next bushfire season.

“Over 1500 people have attended more than 20 public meetings held across Victoria since the Royal Commission report was released. I thank members of the public who took the time to put forward their views on future directions to make Victoria as fire-safe and fire-ready as possible,” he said.

South Gippsland Fire District

DSE has advertised in local papers in recent weeks for seasonal firefighters to work this spring and summer. Applications close this Sunday, September 5, with prospective employees invited to apply online.

Mr Gallacher said that the South Gippsland district is likely to employ about 25 project firefighters this year. This is similar to the number employed last year (when more were employed than in previous years).

The firefighters will be based at DSE or Parks Victoria offices at Foster, Tidal River and Wonthaggi.

In recent years DSE has employed a small number of firefighters (a proportion of the total 25) as seasonal workers, working for six to nine months of the year on three-year contracts. A few more of these seasonal workers will be employed this year. Some will start work this month and more will take up duties in the ensuing weeks, with all expected to be on board by early November.

“Depending on how the season pans out, we will be building up numbers of project firefighters during October and November, with all of them hopefully starting by early December,” said Mr Gallacher.

There will be plenty for the project firefighters to do even before they start fighting fires. Many will have to undertake training. They will also carry out equipment maintenance and field work in the form of fire break construction and track maintenance.

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