Two of WA’s most respected authorities on bushfire management say the State is in no better shape to defend towns from disaster since the far-reaching Keelty reports earlier this decade.
John Iffla, who was awarded an Emergency Services Medal in the 2014 Australia Day honours for co-ordinating volunteer groups’ responses to the reports, said the key recommendation of installing bushfire protection zones around towns had been ignored.
The criticism was echoed by Bushfire Front chairman Roger Underwood, a retired general manager of the former Department of Conservation and Land Management, who said WA had “gone backwards” since Dwellingup was destroyed in 1961.
Bushfire Front chairman Roger Underwood says WA had “gone backwards” since Dwellingup was destroyed in 1961. Picture:Danella Bevis.Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty carried out painful examinations of fires that destroyed 71 homes in Kelmscott-Roleystone and 32 in the Margaret River region in 2011.
His reports triggered a wholesale restructure of WA’s emergency services, including turning the former fire and emergency services authority into a department controlled by a commissioner.
Mr Iffla said he spent thousands of hours co-ordinating a volunteers’ mitigation working group to implement bushfire protection zones, only for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet to baulk at the cost. “So to get this result is really upsetting,” he said.
“It’s not going to be a magic bullet but it’s going to make communities a damn sight safer.”
WA’s bushfire strategy called into question. Picture: Ray Raab/Seven NewsMr Underwood said he couldn’t believe “in this day and age” WA had lost an entire township and key infrastructure such as Samson Brook bridge. “Since the Keelty reports, really nothing good has happened,” he said. “No progress, in fact I think things have got worse.
“Far too little attention on preparedness and far too much on suppression.”
Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said “everything possible” had been done to save homes.
“I reject that we just let people’s homes burn without doing our absolute very best,” Mr Francis said.
“You just can’t get on top of every single one of them straight away.”