News Roundup 23rd June

Bushfire victims locked out of Morrison government’s home builder grants

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that bushfire victims fear they will miss out on the federal government’s HomeBuilder scheme due to the tight deadline to have contracts signed and begin construction.

Those fears have prompted calls for the scheme’s rules to be changed to give those who lost their homes more time to get approvals.

Chris Kezik and his wife Megan are eager to rebuild after their Bilpin home was razed in the black summer bushfires but six months on the family is yet to sign a contract with a builder.

Mr Kezik said he would like to apply for the Morrison government’s $25,000 HomeBuilder grant to help with the cost but fears he will miss out due to the strict rules limiting the scheme to those who sign building contracts between June 4 and the end of the year.

Confusing bushfire warnings ’caused panic’

The Port Macquarie News reported that the warnings issued during the last bushfire season were confusing at times and in one case caused widespread panic and stress when a message was misinterpreted, councils have told a royal commission.

As the NSW mid-north coast battled bushfires in November, a number of people in Kempsey Shire thought they were being told to urgently evacuate over a large area when they were not at risk.

The Kempsey Shire Council said the bulk text message and phone warning, sent on a day of catastrophic fire danger across parts of the state, caused significant panic and stress as a large number of people evacuated to the Kempsey Showground.

A nursing home that was also not at risk was about to evacuate its residents before that was stopped, the council told the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

“Whilst the intent of the message was appropriate, and it is noted that the message was not an evacuation order, unfortunately due to misinterpretation by those that received the message this resulted in widespread panic and stress, which for a large part of the area of distribution was not required,” its submission said.

Fears that bushfires killed off endangered smokey mouse prove premature

The New Daily reports that the critically endangered smoky mouse, feared driven to extinction by the summer’s raging bushfires,  has been discovered alive and well in the Kosciuszko National Park.

Motion-sensor cameras set up over the last five weeks have recorded images of the mouse at seven burnt-out sites in southern NSW.

The NSW Office of Environment set up 58 cameras to monitor wildlife following the Dunns Road fire which devastated the region over the summer.

The sighting of the 50g creature – a distant relative of quolls and Tasmanian devils – comes as a huge relief to conservationists.

It is only found in two sites in NSW – in the Nullica area on the far south coast and in Kosciuszko National Park – as well as parts of Victoria and the ACT.

“We are relieved and delighted by this news as we were fearing the worst … as more than 90 per cent of their habitat was burnt,” Environment Minister Matt Kean said.

AEMO Report for Summer 2019-20 highlights need for enhanced energy system resilience 

AEMO released its report for Summer 2019-20 on 22nd June and highlighted the issues that they had faced during the bushfire period.

Key outcomes in the NEM during the 2019-20 summer period:

  • Temperature: Australia’s second warmest on record.
  • Energy demand: Largest underlying demand on record (38,055 megawatts on 31 January 2020),
  • Matching energy supply and demand: AEMO declared 28 Lack of Reserve (LOR) conditions, eight ‘actual’ LOR2s (four in NSWs, three in Victoria, and one in South Australia).
  • Transmission network separation events: Six separation events occurred, compared to zero in the prior summer. A separation event is an electrical disconnection between NEM regions (states) although they can also occur within a region resulting in part of one state being isolated from the rest of the state and supplied from another region. Separation events reduce the supply that can be shared between states, reducing resilience, competition and creating additional operational challenges for the power system.
  • Market interventions: AEMO issued 178 directions to deal with actual or potential supply shortages or system security issues, representing a ten-fold increase over the past three years. The majority (65) were issued to maintain system strength in South Australia when the state was separated or ‘islanded’ from the rest of the NEM.

You can read the full report here:

Bushfire damage repairs complete on NSW road network

Infrastructure Magazine reports that work is complete on a $64 million project to repair the damage caused by the 2019-20 bushfires on New South Wales’ road and transport network.

The bushfires had impacted 880km of NSW’s road network, damaging guard rails, bridges and signs as well as the state’s Main West railway line.

Crews have worked tirelessly since the fires to clear and repair the road and rail network and to make it more resilient to bushfires in the future by clearing additional vegetation in high-risk areas and replacing burnt culverts with new pipes which are more capable of withstanding bushfire impacts.

The recovery effort saw 2,000 signs and 30km of guardrail replaced, as well as the clearing of thousands of trees.

The state’s Main West railway line though the Blue Mountains was also restored to full capacity last month after more than 150,000 man hours went into rebuilding the track infrastructure damaged by the fires and subsequent flooding.

Crews replaced more than 50km of fibre optic cables and 37km of high voltage power lines damaged in the fires and rebuilt the signaling system between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.

NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Paul Toole, said, “From the Gwydir Highway in the north to the Kings Highway and Princes Highway in the south to Jenolan Caves Road in the Central West, the damage to State roads was immense.”

Paul O’Toole behind the wheel of an original Lotus Elite

Mr Toole said the recovery effort would not have been possible without the tireless work from more than 850 people from Transport for NSW, local businesses, councils, emergency services and contractors.

“It has been a mammoth effort right across the State that has taken over three months to complete,” Mr Toole said.

Mr Toole said Transport for NSW was continuing to work closely with fire-affected councils to assist with recovery and restoration of local roads infrastructure under the Disaster Recovery Funding arrangements.

Political war of words of over rate of bushfire recovery in Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountain Gazette repoted that figures on how many bushfire-ravaged Blue Mountains properties have had debris cleared following the summer bushfires show our community is being left behind, according to Federal Member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman.

The latest figures provided by the government in response to a question in the Senate showed that of the 107 properties registered for debris clean-up programs in the Blue Mountains Local Government Area (LGA), just 41 had been completed by May 20.

“This represents just 38 per cent of registered properties in the Mountains,” said Ms Templeman. “So four months out from the next fire season, based on these figures we are still waiting for the majority of properties damaged by the last bushfires to be cleared.”

But the federal government countered that the figures quoted by Ms Templeman are a month old. The Liberal Party accused Labor of political point-scoring over the bushfire recovery.

Ms Templeman said that “on the ground we know that the clean up has been slow. And it’s really hard to plan your future when there’s still ruins around you”.

“It’s not clear how many bushfire-affected residents will miss out on the extra $25,000 for their rebuild from the HomeBuilder program because they won’t be able to sign a contract or meet some of the other criteria in time,” she said.

“No fuel meant no bushfire”

News of the Area quoted Captain George Brandendurg from Tilligerry RFS.

In the winter of 2018, a bushfire trickled down the Tilligerry Peninsula.

It looked quite dramatic at the time but no lives or homes were lost and the koalas were safe in the treetops.

According to Life Member of Tilligerry RFS Richard Osborne OAM it was a blessing in disguise.

“Just a few months later in summer, another fire started up at Salt Ash and came our way pushed along by winds gusting to 90 kph,” he said.

“When it reached the burnt out scrub it went out. No fuel meant no bushfire. It was as simple as that.”

“Without the earlier cool bushfire,it would have been unfightable,” he said.

“During the last horrific bushfire season of 2019 – 2020, we were in a far better position than most of NSW as there was just one year’s fuel build-up on the peninsular whereas those huge national parks bushfires had decades of unburnt ground fuel to feed on,” Mr Osborne said.

“But what about The Hill?” This is the question many Lemon Tree Passage residents ask as the scrub between Mallabula and Lemon Tree Passage escaped the earlier bushfire and is overladen with fire fuel.

The good news is that Tilligerry RFS has targeted this hazard; the paperwork has been done and they are ready to burn it off according to Captain George Brandendurg.

“The only problem we have at this time is that it is too moist to burn effectively,” he said. “Once it dries out, it’s our number one priority,” he said.

“The area targeted is roughly between the water tower, along the ridgeline fire trail and down to the the industrial estate,” Captain Brandendurg said

Cr Steve Tucker, a long time burnoff advocate, praised the local brigade’s strategic burnoff plans. “No other volunteer community group has higher status than our unpaid firies,” he said.

“I’ll assist them in any way possible in keeping our community safe.” he added.

No mobile coverage, no warning ahead of catastrophic NSW firestorms

The Daily Telegraph reported that a NSW council has revealed how unprepared and overwhelmed it was in the Black Summer firestorms that razed more than 100 homes in their towns and villages.

The Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements has been hearing from local councils about how they developed and deployed emergency plans in the face of cataclysmic bushfires over summer.

Clarence Valley Council’s representative before the bushfire Royal Commission, on Tuesday, detailed what went wrong before about 120 homes went up in flames concluding “no one was prepared for fires of this magnitude”.

“The scale of these fires probably tested the whole system,” Council director of environment, planning and community Des Schroder said.

A major blow to the Clarence region came when the fires, which swept through at the end of October and in November, took out power to the mobile towers

Council‘s emergency plans didn’t consider that challenge until it was upon them, Mr Schroder said.

“We virtually had no communications … and the landlines got burnt out in the upper catchment especially,” Mr Schroder said.

Nymboida lost 90 homes and was without communications for weeks.

The heavy losses at Nymboida came after a warning text four hours earlier, other communities in mobile black spots weren’t so lucky.

National Parks and Wildlife Service on a mission to recruit 125 new staff

Mirage News reports that the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is hiring 125 new staff across NSW. These staff will play a vital role in managing a world class network of 870 national parks including through effective fire management and feral animal control.

Atticus Fleming, Deputy Secretary of NPWS said the focus of this recruitment drive is to enable an increase in hazard reduction activity in national parks and to ensure more NPWS firefighters are in place before the 2020–21 bushfire season.

“Field officers are at the frontline protecting our national parks and threatened wildlife – fighting fires is a key priority, as well as delivering feral animal control and maintaining walking tracks and other infrastructure and supporting threatened species conservation projects,” said Mr Fleming.

“We are on the hunt for problem solvers who have a passion for the Australian bush, who can use initiative and think on their feet and who will bring a good practical approach to their work,” Mr Fleming said.

“The work is varied and will be well supported with training opportunities. Importantly, this is a chance to make a difference as one of the team protecting 7.2 million hectares of national parks, from the islands of Sydney Harbour, to the desert country in the north west, the forests along the Great Dividing Range and the alpine country in the Snowy Mountains” he said.

Pressure mounts on states to support bushfire bunkers in the wake of deadly fire season

The ABC reports that the Fire authorities are weighing up the risk of supporting personal bushfire bunkers and making them easier for people to install as a way to help those in fire-prone areas survive deadly blazes.

It comes as stakeholders warn bunkers will become more prevalent as people fear longer and more intense fire seasons in future, regardless of whether authorities endorse them.

These underground shelters can help people escape a fire if it comes on too quickly, but they are only meant to be used as a last resort.

Thirty-three people died in the recent summer fires across Australia.

The CSIRO is investigating six cases in Victoria where people survived in accredited purpose-built bunkers.

“What seems to be emerging is a pretty strong scorecard for how effective regulated bunkers are in Victoria,” Justin Leonard, project leader for bushfire adaptation at CSIRO, said.

“I assume that evidence will end up in the relevant royal commissions and inquires and may lead to further interest in its expansion or use or support in policies.”

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