Page 178 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 15 February 2006

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impending threat from bushfire and, indeed, other hazards. At the same time, advice was provided on how householders can prepare for bushfires and make their homes more capable of withstanding bushfires.

There is a saying in the business that “people protect houses and houses protect people”. The government has acted to ensure that these concepts are understood and applied. The ESA has been applying these guidelines to evacuation strategies and they have been published in the publications Bushfires and the Bush Capital and the All Hazards Guide. Our bushfire management experts provide advice to other government agencies in the ACT—for example, the recent forum on fences and bushfires presented by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre. Such forums provide invaluable advice to residents, emergency services personnel and, importantly, our town planners.

Finally, our emergency service response agencies are better equipped and prepared than ever before, with additional tankers using the most advanced firefighting technology available. Three rural CAFS tankers are operational in the ACT, providing the ability to rapidly lay down foam to protect assets. Two helicopters are deployed to the ACT over the critical period of the fire season. Training of bushfire fighters has elevated significantly in recent years, with the adoption of national standards for firefighters. The ACT has led an AFAC project to develop best practice for training in AIIMS and has high levels of training in incident management as well as frontline response.

When you combine all the on-ground work, the community education and the extra state-of-the-art resources provided to firefighters, the ACT is better prepared this bushfire season than ever before. The government treats bushfire management very seriously and approaches it as a multifaceted and complex program, as opposed to the simple one-off solutions that have been suggested.

So what are these neglected areas to which Mr Pratt refers? Such a call shows little understanding of the concept and implementation of the strategic bushfire management plan. Based on the bushfire risk assessment across the ACT, there are areas of higher priority than others. Additionally, there are “difficult” areas such as steep slopes and rocky ground, requiring considerable effort by the land managers and the ESA to find safe, effective and achievable solutions to the risk. It is not an issue that can be solved immediately, and significant expenditure and time may be required to alter the interface to meet the full requirements of the strategic bushfire management plan. In some instances, alternative solutions such as building design might have to be employed.

This will be a long-term project. The government has, however, already made funds available for seasonal firefighters, who are currently undertaking slashing in difficult areas, and plans are being developed to manage the areas in the long term. The call to apply a 40-metre wide buffer is a simplistic solution to the perceived concerns of bushfire risk in the ACT and shows little, if any, understanding of fire behaviour.

Bushfire management in the ACT is management by objective, not by simple prescriptive measures such as have been suggested, which are not only cost prohibitive but also lack any strategic approach to the overall bushfire risk. Clear objectives are set for the protection of assets in the ACT based on a range of factors, such as the length and direction of fire runs to the interface, the slope and aspect of the land, the type and flammability of vegetation, the land management objectives and the adjacent land use.

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