With the Esperance fires now extinguished and the recovery effort in full swing, WAFarmers urges authorities to launch an enquiry into the response to the fires, and to introduce a country-based firefighting body.
Following the fires, concerns have been raised regarding the availability of meteorological information prior to and during the early stages of the fires, the question of responsibility given the fires began on Crown land, the lack of back-up in the early firefighting stages, the threat to local crop-dusting pilots about losing their licences if they flew near the blaze and, finally, telecommunications problems.
WAFarmers President Dale Park said despite actions during the last five years to improve firefighting services in Western Australia, they had not been enough to prevent widespread devastation in Esperance.
“Over the last five or so years, two full scale enquiries were launched into Western Australia’s firefighting processes, there was a complete clean-out at the top of FESA, and it was changed from an authority into a government department,” Mr Park said.
“While it appears that a lot has been done since to effectively manage the state’s bushfires, the Esperance fires have demonstrated that the results have not changed significantly.”
Mr Park said WAFarmers recognised that firefighting efforts undertaken by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services representatives, locals and other volunteers had eventually brought the flames under control, but explained that a country fire authority would be better placed to manage rural fire emergencies.
“As Senator Chris Back explained to the Senate in Federal Parliament last week, we should not confuse volunteerism with amateurism, because properly trained and resourced volunteers are more than equal when it comes to their work on fire grounds,” Mr Park said.
“Local volunteers, who often have experience in fire brigades, provide expertise in property knowledge and firefighting skills, and their abilities should not be underestimated because they are not paid.
“The establishment of a Western Australian country firefighting authority would be a much better option for regional centres.
“It would have the ability to allocate resources towards mitigation, which is currently the responsibility of the under-resourced Department of Parks and Wildlife, in addition to greater firefighting and training capabilities, allowing for the faster distribution of assistance as needed.
“We hope the government seriously considers the advantages of such a system and quickly puts the idea into practice.”
All media requests must be directed to WAFarmers Media and Communications Officer Melanie Dunn on (08) 9486 2100 or [email protected].