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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 2 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 323 ..

MR QUINLAN (continuing):

The Emergency Services Bureau communication centre received hundreds of 000 emergency calls from concerned people alarmed by the dense smoke, and the challenges for the control staff were to determine whether these reports were for new fires or smoke from the current fires.

Large-scale road closures were arranged at short notice and worked well in the circumstances, and although road closures were a major inconvenience, the understanding and patience of the Canberra community were quite evident.

Helicopters provided invaluable support in water bombing operations and as aerial observation platforms to keep pace with the spread of the bushfire. The aerial water bombing capacity of the Snowy Hydro SouthCare helicopter is four times that of other helicopters used and underlines the value of using large helicopters for this task.

The capability of helicopters in this type of bushfire event is clearly recognised, and the Chief Minister has passed on to me a letter he received from the then acting Prime Minister indicating the desire to look at options to nationally boost the aerial firefighting capacity. The Emergency Services Bureau will represent the ACT in discussions with fire services in other jurisdictions to look at enhancing mutual aid arrangements in this area.

Losses from all the bushfires were restricted to about 1,600 hectares of pine forest, open space parkland, other lands and Canberra Nature Park areas. There were also many kilometres of rural fences, rural grazing land and some heritage pine forest areas included in the total area burnt.

I have no doubt that there were personal losses for some small businesses, non-profit organisations and rural leaseholders who had assets in the path of the fire, but there were many instances and anecdotes of spectacular saves to major property in the area.

To give you some idea of the efforts, the ACT Fire Brigade fighters were able to save thatched animal enclosures inside the National Zoo and Aquarium directly in the shadow of the huge burnt pines. I understand, though, that the firefighters also had one eye on the big cats and the bear enclosures to ensure that the animals were not loose in the area. I heard that the big cats put in an application to share emergency accommodation with the wallabies and kangaroos.

The Governor-General was requested to turn on all his sprinkler systems in the grounds of Government House for two days running, and he personally visited the firefighters at change of shift on Boxing Day morning to thank them for their efforts.

On a more positive note, about 73 private homes directly under threat, significant community assets such as the Mint, the National Zoo and the Aquarium, the Defence Services Staff College, the RSPCA, the Canberra Motor Village, the cork-oak plantation, the Himalayan cedar plantation, the Yarralumla woolshed, the exhibition centre at Yarramundi Reach, the Two Sisters Motel, the Forest Park Riding School and many hectares of pine plantation were saved.

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