Submission to fire inquiry pushes for enhanced prevention
As the time to share concerns regarding the management of the Fraser Island wildfires ended, a major organisation confirmed it had prepared its own suggestions for the inquiry being undertaken by Inspector-General Emergency Management, Alistair Dawson.
Institute of Foresters of Australia and Australian Forest Growers president Bob Gordon said the submission made by the organisation urged the review panel to weigh up the effectiveness and cost of relying on waterbombing aircraft as a reactive measure against the need for conventional wildfire responses and enhanced year-round prevention activities across Queensland.
"We often see aircraft bombing established fires, and people think that they put the fires out," he said.
"They don't put forest fire out. It is ineffective to attempt to water bomb a large fire out.
"The time to attack a fire is before it starts, with prevention and hazard treatments, and soon after while the fire is small in area, with aggressive, land-based attack.
"Forest fires require a lot of work on the ground to remove fuels so that the fire is actually stopped from moving by a mineral earth break.
"These are often enlarged using back-burns to remove fuel between the active fire edge and the constructed fuel break. Most people do not see this work on the ground take place.
Mr Gordon said a greater focus on year-round land management would ensure those equipped with the specialised skill set and resources to fight forest fires could mount timely and informed attacks on any new fire fronts.
"The IFA/AFG are calling for an adequate network of fire access tracks and strategic fuel breaks to be maintained on Fraser Island to support safe burning operations and wildfire response and the establishment of an annual prescribed burn target," he said.
"This burn target should be based on recommended fire regimes, cultural burning requirements and principles and should be somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 hectares annually.
"We also recommend an independent review of the effectiveness and efficiency of firefighting machinery and air fleet in comparison with fireline maintenance and wildfire mitigation activities.
"In Queensland, the immediate priority for future management should be on other extreme risk localities around the state, where the next fire disaster is more likely. This includes adequate fireline network design and maintenance, widespread burning involving Traditional Owners where possible, and adopting traditional burning design methods.
"This will require a commitment from all levels of Government to better fund and resource active forest management and fire management programs across the state, in accord with COAG's Bushfire Management Policy Statement for Forests and Rangelands.
"Active management is integral to reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire events, which is more important than ever as Australia faces hotter and drier conditions as a result of climate change."
Key recommendations from IFA/AFG's submission:
- An adequate network of fire access tracks and strategic fuel breaks should be maintained to support safe burning operations and wildfire response.
- Sufficient management controls should be in place to manage backburn risks, and the policy of remote approval should be abandoned in favour of authority for backburn approval remaining with the local, competent and qualified Incident Controller. Clear chain of command and delegation should ensure there is no confusion of responsibilities.
- Relating to K'gari, an annual prescribed burn target should be established and based on recommended fire regimes, Cultural Burning requirements, and property protection, likely to be in the vicinity of 15,000 ha annually.
- Funding and scale of air operations, including Large Aerial Tankers (LATs), should be reviewed based on an objective independent analysis of operational efficiency and effectiveness and a comparative analysis should be made with fireline maintenance and wildfire mitigation activities.
- A post-fire analysis by a competent, independent fire specialist of early containment should identify any real underlying causes for containment failure and ensure continual improvement of any identified weaknesses.
- In accord with COAG's Bushfire Management Policy Statement for Forests and Rangelands, broadly across all public land, appropriate local or regional prescribed burn targets must be established, and fire adapted vegetation burnt in line with recommended fire regimes.