Page 482 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 13 February 2013

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DR BOURKE: My question is to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Minister, recently the ACT experienced some of the worst fire danger days for many years. Could the minister please outline to members how the government and the Emergency Services Agency dealt with these elevated fire danger conditions?

MADAM SPEAKER: Before I call the minister, I would like to consult with the Clerk. There is an item on the notice paper, the program for this evening. I know that we have changed the standing orders. The Clerk has reminded me that we have taken out the standing order about anticipating debate, so I shall call the minister for emergency services.

MR CORBELL: I thank Dr Bourke for his interest in relation to this very important matter. The significant reforms implemented by the government over the past 10 years have made a substantial difference to how we prepare for and respond to the types of elevated fire danger days we have experienced over the recent January period.

Since 2003 the ACT has, thankfully, seen relatively few bushfires. However, we have seen significant fire danger days, with the region and the territory coming under severe and above average fire risk. This was particularly the case on 8, 11, 12 and 18 January this year, during which the territory saw strong north-westerly wind conditions and temperatures soaring into the very high 30s, in extremely dry conditions. This has been, of course, in the context of a build-up of significant grassland fuels over the previous two summers, followed by relatively dry periods leading into those summers.

The fire danger index in the ACT exceeded 50 on 11 and 12 January, indicating a severe fire danger rating. The fire danger index exceeded 75 on 8 and 18 January, which is an extraordinary fire danger index.

In the lead-up to this year’s fire season, therefore, we have seen comprehensive preparation by the ACT Rural Fire Service and the ACT emergency service personnel overall. Between 8 and 18 January the ACT RFS responded to 42 bush and grass fires in the ACT and support was also provided to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service for the Cooma, Bungendore and Yass fires. A total fire ban was declared for these periods.

All ACT RFS tankers were fully crewed. All ACT Fire and Rescue personnel were rostered to crew appliances and provide other assistance as required during these extreme fire weather days. This included the crewing of all ACT Rural Fire Service and ACT Fire and Rescue appliances during these dangerous conditions.

In addition, the Hume air base was fully activated, with at one point 12 aircraft stationed here to support both ACT and New South Wales operations. Approximately 126 aircraft hours were undertaken for suppression, crew deployment and observation of the Namadgi national park fires that started on 6 January. A fixed-wing bomber retardant base was also established at Canberra airport to support regional firefighting operations.

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