Australia: chief fire officer of Country Fire Authority resigns

From the HeraldSun

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UPDATE 4.35pm: A COLLEAGUE of Russell Rees says he fears the CFA [Country Fire Authority] chief was pushed from office and that he had been happy to stay on in the role.

Mr Rees will leave his position a month before the final report of the bushfires Royal Commission is handed down, after he was heavily criticised in the interim report.

He said today the decision was one he made entirely on his own. He had 18 months left to run on his contract.

Russell Rees
Russell Rees, CFA photo

But Paul Hendrie, who was captain of Kinglake brigade on Black Saturday, suspects Mr Rees was pushed.

He said Mr Rees was positive about the job when he spoke to him three days before the February 7 first anniversary of the fires.

“I was actually talking to Russell out there and he said he was happy in the job and he was staying and all that sort of stuff,” Mr Hendrie said.

“It just surprises me today to hear that he’s resigned.

“He might have said ‘well the pressure is too much’ and he might have moved on but in the back of your mind you think that maybe someone, somehow, somewhere along the line, someone has pushed him.”

Premier John Brumby today said Mr Rees made the right decision to quit his post because new blood was needed in the CFA.

Continue reading “Australia: chief fire officer of Country Fire Authority resigns”

Victorian government approves fire bunker

The Victorian government in Australia has introduced new interim regulations for bunkers in which residents can take refuge when threatened by a bushfire. In order to install a fire bunker, a building permit must be obtained and the bunker must comply with performance requirements such as accessing and exiting the shelter, as well as utilities and the air supply. Residents need to purchase a bushfire bunker or shelter which is accredited, or satisfy a building surveyor that it meets the requirements contained in the regulations.

Under the new interim regulations, the first fire bunker has been accredited by the Victorian government. It is built by the Melbourne-based company Wildfire Safety Bunkers and is designed to be installed underground to shelter up to six people. The company emphasizes that the bunker should be used as a “last resort” and evacuation should be considered first.

The company’s web site has an excellent time-lapse animation showing the installation of the bunker. It is on their home page–click the arrow to begin the animation.

wildfire bunker
The bunker, shown with optional water tank, sprinkler, and solar-panel-powered battery charging system. Credit: Wildfire Safety Bunkers
wildfire bunker
Credit: Wildfire Safety Bunkers

The interim regulations will be in effect until proposed new national regulations are approved later in the year.

Researchers study how prescribed fires affected Black Saturday fires

Research scientist Lachlan McCaw led a team that studied the effects that previous planned or unplanned fires had on the spread of the disastrous Black Saturday fires a year ago in Australia. Unsurprisingly, he concluded that the intensity was reduced and the areas provided anchor points for firefighters, but larger prescribed fires were more effective than small ones.

DUH. To many of us this is intuitive, but documenting this data can help to rebut the uninformed rants of those in Australia that are opposed to prescribed fires.

Here is an excerpt from a report in The Australian:

Dr McCaw said that across the areas burned on Black Saturday, there was no evidence that small-area fuel reduction had curbed the fires, but strong evidence of an impact where planned or unplanned burns had occurred within four years and over broad areas of more than 600ha.

Where the Kilmore fire, burning with great intensity about 3pm on Black Saturday, met a relatively small area of four-year-old growth, it was quickly outflanked.

About 6.30pm, when the fire met a 1600ha area burnt by wildfire in January 2006, it burned with low intensity.

Dr McCaw said the severity of the Beechworth fire on Black Saturday was reduced by burns that had been conducted one year, two years and four years previously, that had also provided “anchor points” for fire fighting.

Asked about the effectiveness of small “mosaic” burns that left areas of unburnt vegetation for biodiversity conservation, Dr McCaw said if the primary objective of planned burning was community protection, “you would have to be pursuing fairly high levels of fuel reduction”.

Two teenagers arrested for starting fatal Black Saturday fire in Australia

Two teenage boys were arrested for starting a fire in Australia on Black Saturday last February 7 in which a disabled resident burned to death. The Maiden Gully fire near Bendigo killed Kevin “Mick Kane, 48, destroyed 60 homes, caused $29 million in damages, and burned 875 acres.

The two boys, aged 14 and 15, are said to have started the fire, then were seen by witnesses when they returned to watch it. Later they were stopped by a police roadblock.

Between January 29 and March 26 they made 55 calls on a mobile phone to an emergency number, threatening operators and harassing them with obscene comments. Police used listening devices to investigate the pair.

The boys were each charged with arson causing death, deliberately lighting a bushfire, lighting a fire on a total fire ban day, and lighting a fire in a country area during extreme weather conditions. They face a total of more than 150 charges.

Australian animal shelter builds fireproof bunker for their animals

The Hepburn Wildlife Shelter in central Victoria, Australia is beginning construction this week on a large concrete bunker that could be used to shelter their animals if the facility is threatened by a bushfire. The bunker, four meters wide by nine meters long, will be built into a slope and will include separate areas for wombats, birds, kangaroos, possums, koalas, alpacas, and emus.

The Hepburn Wildlife Shelter is surrounded by the Hepburn Regional Park and the operators are aware that they would not be able to evacuate the 60 to 100 animals normally housed at the facility in the event of a threatening bushfire.

The Shelter is raising funds for the $10,000 bunker by selling used items in a mobile “junk stall” and by selling Christmas cards.

This is the first time Wildfire Today has heard of a wildfire shelter specifically built for animals.

Man appears in court on 191 charges linked to Black Saturday fire

Brendan Sokaluk, 39, appeared on Tuesday in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in Australia via video link from prison. He is facing 191 charges related to one of the fires that burned across Victoria on February 7, including 10 counts of arson causing death, intentionally causing a bushfire, criminal damage, recklessly causing injury, and possessing child pornography. 

The Magistrate set a pretrial hearing date for May 31, where 610 witnesses are expected to testify over six weeks. The hearing will determine if there is enough evidence to begin a jury trial.

Numerous fires burned in Victoria on February 7, Black Saturday, killing 173 people and destroying more than 2,000 homes. Mr. Sokaluk is charged with setting one of the fires which killed 10 people.