News Roundup 30th May

Mt Riverview Rural Fire Brigade Memorial

The Blue Mountains Gazette reported that past members of Mt Riverview Rural Fire Brigade who have died while active members of the brigade were honoured with the unveiling of a memorial bell on Saturday, May 15.

The idea for the memorial bell was first suggested by RFS chaplain, Keith King, who conducted the funeral service for Mt Riverview brigade foundation member Alan Spears in 2019 and made the initial donation towards the bell’s cost.

More than 500 men and women have served in the ranks of the Mt Riverview brigade since its formation in 1969. Alan Spears was a member for more than 50 years.

The memorial bell unveiling was attended by Blue Mountains Mayor, Mark Greenhill, RFS Blue Mountains Inspector Robert Vinzenz, Group Captain Greg Corrigan, Alan Spears’ widow Heather, son Shane and daughter Charmaine, as well as current members.

Illawarra Rural Fire Service volunteers honoured for their work

Illawarra Rural Fire Service volunteers honoured for their work

Illawarra Rural Fire Service volunteers with a combined total of more than 1000 years experience were honoured on Saturday according to the Illawarra Mercury.

The 33 Illawarra district volunteers received long service and national medals at a ceremony with NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner, Kyle Stewart.ADVERTISING

“The members being recognised today with long service medals and clasps or national medals range from 18 to 53 years of service with a special mention of Brian Arberry of Gerringong Brigade for his 53 years of service to the NSW RFS and receipt of his long service medal 3rd and 4th clasp,” Deputy Commissioner Stewart said.

“Today we also congratulate 20 other exceptional Illawarra District volunteers with national medals which are earned for long service which has gone above and beyond normal expectations.”

He also praised the efforts of all RFS volunteers during last year’s Black Summer bushfires.

“You only have to look at 2019-20 season to see how hard our skilled firefighters and support crews work to keep us safe when fires and emergency situations threaten,” he said.

Shoalhaven City Council receives $2 million boost to better prepare region against fires and floods

RESILIENCE PROJECT RECEIVES FUNDING BOOST: Front row: Recovery into Resilience Project Coordinator Vince Di Pietro, Mayor Amanda Findley, Minister for Local Government and Member for South Coast Shelley Hancock. Back row: CEO Stephen Dunshea, City Lifestyles Director Jane Lewis, NSW Police Regional Trish Malone, SES Richard Findsen, Fire and Rescue Rick Jones, Local Emergency Management Officer Kim White, RFS Angus Barnes, NSW Police Local Emergency Operations Controller Dave Cockram, Councillor Patricia White, Councillor Kaye Gartner, Councillor John Wells.

 RESILIENCE PROJECT RECEIVES FUNDING BOOST: Front row: Recovery into Resilience Project Coordinator Vince Di Pietro, Mayor Amanda Findley, Minister for Local Government and Member for South Coast Shelley Hancock. Back row: CEO Stephen Dunshea, City Lifestyles Director Jane Lewis, NSW Police Regional Trish Malone, SES Richard Findsen, Fire and Rescue Rick Jones, Local Emergency Management Officer Kim White, RFS Angus Barnes, NSW Police Local Emergency Operations Controller Dave Cockram, Councillor Patricia White, Councillor Kaye Gartner, Councillor John Wells.

The South Coast Register reported that Shoalhaven City Council is set to receive $2 million from NSW and Commonwealth funding to better prepare the region for future natural disasters.

Shoalhaven City Council Mayor Amanda Findley joined Minister for Local Government and Member for South Coast Shelley Hancock at the Shoalhaven Emergency Operations Centre in Nowra for the funding announcement.

Mrs Hancock said the funding will be used to provide new resources for the Shoalhaven community including handy checklists and informative workshops, aimed at improving resilience in emergency situations and major incidents.

“The Recovery into Resilience Project by Shoalhaven City Council is designed to enhance the community’s resilience in emergency situations and capacity to respond to major incidents like floods and fires,” Mrs Hancock said.

“This is an exciting project which will strengthen community resilience and reduce the impact of future natural disasters in Shoalhaven.

“We’re going to see the Shoalhaven community working towards improving readiness to natural disasters in a practical way, including the development and distribution of information such as checklists and booklets.

“In the long term, Council will strengthen its partnership with Griffith University and run workshops focused on community-led resilience.

“A crucial part of the project is to deliver official, real-time local information and connectivity to the Emergency Operations Centre in Nowra which will be implemented across 23 community buildings in the Shoalhaven.

“I look forward to seeing this project progress in the coming months and would encourage all members of the Shoalhaven community to get involved.”

Shoalhaven City Council Mayor Amanda Findley said the community has endured a lot of challenges over the last year with several floods and fires and was very excited about the Recovery into Resilience Project.

“We are delighted to receive funding support from the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund and acknowledge the assistance of both the NSW and Australian governments to make it possible,” Cr Findley said.

“We want to do all that we can to help ensure our residents and the local community are safe and informed, now and into the future.

“Improving the short-term readiness will allow residents and visitors to feel prepared in emergency situations while long term resilience planning will ensure our communities can work together and bounce back faster.

“What we know from past experiences is that having timely access to up-to-date information in an emergency is critical to saving lives.”

Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips, who has advocated for funding for the project, welcomes the boost.

“I’m really pleased to see this funding finally come through and many great local projects funded,” she said.

“Bushfire and disaster recovery is ongoing and will be for years. It’s vital that people and communities can access ways to better prepare for disasters”.

The Recovery into Resilience Project will be rolled out over the coming fifteen months.

SHOVELS HIT THE GROUND ON $8.2-MILLION RFS COMMAND CENTRE

NBN News reported that Tamworth’s hardworking Rural Fire Service will soon have their own Command Centre.

Worth $8.2-million, the Westdale facility will feature a first-class operations room, office spaces and tanker parking.

It’ll also allow for a increased number of volunteers to join the local ranks.

“We won’t be sad to see this go, we’ll be really, really happy to move into this new building. As I said, it’s the “duck’s guts” and it’ll have everything we need to run the operation efficiently.”

Construction, jointly funded by the RFS, State Government and local council, kicked off today.

The build is expected to be completed in the next 12 months.

The RFS Media Release is here.

South Coast man accused of defrauding bushfire charities in bail court

South Coast man accused of defrauding bushfire charities in bail court

The Illawarra Mercury reported that a South Coast man who allegedly defrauded charities in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires appeared in Wollongong Bail Court on Saturday.

Darren Mark Colquhoun, 38, of Barringella on the NSW South Coast is facing a range of charges including six counts of dishonestly gaining financial advantage by deception and one count of damaging property by fire for financial gain.

According to police facts tendered to the court, he allegedly received $600,500 from a range of charities and an insurance company – none of which he was entitled to.

The police allege Colquhoun called for emergency services on January 5, 2020 – two days after hazard reductions were carried out nearby – to say the roof of his house was on fire.

He rang back a few minutes later to say flames had engulfed his home.

Forensic services noted there were no burnt patches around the house.

Also, video of the house in fire allegedly found on Colquhoun’s mobile phone showed “a fire that had been burning for a significant amount of time, not a matter of minutes as claimed by the accused.

In the police facts, it is alleged the fire was not an accident.

“Police believe that the accused lit the fire himself and let it burn for a significant amount of time before alerting emergency services and requesting assistance,” the facts allege.

“The accused did this for the purpose of financial gain, that being the insurance money he received from the NRMA.”

He was allegedly paid $376,000 by the NRMA.

As well as the insurance payout, police allege he applied for funds from a range of organisations set up to help bushfire victims.

The facts allege he received $60,000 from the Australian Red Cross, $75,000 from the Rural Assistance Authority, $11,500 from the Salvation Army, $60,000 from Service NSW and $3000 from St Vincent de Paul.

When police searched Colquhoun’s home, they allegedly found $427,000 in a safe.

In bail court on Saturday, Police Prosecutor Amelia Wall said the public had an expectation that people who committed fraud claiming to be a victim of the bushfires would be punished.

Sgt Wall said the charge of setting fire to property carried a maximum 14-year jail sentence.

Colquhoun’s solicitor said there was no direct evidence of anything untoward at the scene of the house fire and that the accused had two shipping containers of goods at the property in preparation for rebuilding the home.

The solicitor said the money in the safe was the proceeds from the insurance and charities that he legitimately received.

If granted bail, he said the accused could forfeit his passport and place himself under house arrest.

Registrar Tina McKenna granted bail under a range of strict conditions including someone offering a $10,000 surety and that he give his passport to the police.

He must also report to Nowra police on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, have no contact with witnesses or the charities and insurance company involved.

He also is forbidden from approaching any points of departure from NSW – either domestic or international.

He will return to Nowra Local Court on June 7.

Veteran Bilpin firefighters Johnson and Newton remembered through Sydney Markets Foundation donation

Hawkesbury Post reported that two rapid spray slip-on tank and pump units have been delivered this week to Bilpin landholders to help support its RFS Brigade, and they’ve been named after much-loved local veteran firefighters Albert Newton and Bill Johnson.

Bilpin RFS veterans William ‘Bill’ Johnson and Albert Newton remembered – pic courtesy Nick Wood Photography

Carlo Trimboli, Chairperson of the Sydney Markets Foundation, said the fresh produce wholesaler community was passionate about doing whatever it could to get Bilpin back on track, as they could see first-hand the devastation left in the aftermath of the bushfires and the toll it was having on their growers.

“Sydney Markets has a long association with the region and its growers, and Bilpin is a critical supplier of apples and flowers to Sydney Markets,” Carlo said.

“When the bushfires came in 2019/2020, Bilpin was subjected to unrelenting fires that engulfed the area, but thanks to the unwavering bravery of the Bilpin RFS Brigade there was no loss of life.

Bilpin RFS, with Freshmark CEO James Kellaway. L-R – Captain Sean Lonergan, Deputy Captain Jim Newton, Secretary Cathy Wilson, Freshmark CEO James Kellaway, Community Engagement Officer Penny McKinlay, Deputy Captain Jim Haines, Deputy Captain Dave Hawes, Senior Deputy Captain Stuart McKinlay

“We couldn’t undo the devastation of 2019/2020, but we wanted to do something positive, so we chose to help prepare Bilpin for future bushfire seasons by supplying two Rapid Spray slip-on tank and pump units.”

Sydney Markets Foundation’ Bushfire Appeal raised $239,600, including $150,000 from Sydney Markets Limited, on behalf of their stakeholders.

Jim Haines, Bilpin RFS Deputy Captain, says the impact that the donation would have on the community of Bilpin was immeasurable.

The Rapid Spray slip-on tank and pump units

“The generosity of the community and businesses in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires has been incredible, and we thank Sydney Markets Foundation for the kind donation of these two Rapid Spray slip-on tank and pump units, which will assist Bilpin in protecting its community fight future fires,” he said.

“In honour of William ‘Bill’ Johnson and Albert Newton, who celebrated 70 years at Bilpin Rural Fire Service and fought more than 100 fires, each unit will adorn their names in recognition of their bravery and unrelenting determination to protect the people of Bilpin,” Mr Haines said.

Beekeeping boom for NSW

Mirage News reported that funding support for the beekeeping industry will keep queen bees buzzing and help restore thousands of bee hives destroyed from the 2019-2020 bushfires.

Honey Bees working hard in the spring sunlight.

The 2019-2020 bushfire season destroyed over 9800 hives, with another 88,000 suffering heat and smoke damage.

Aiming to create a hive of activity in the state, the NSW and Australian governments will provide $1.9 million in funding for apiary projects. This will include:

  • an audit of NSW government-owned land for suitable bee sites
  • establishing pollinator-friendly plants in rural NSW
  • upskilling beekeepers by subsidising courses in biosecurity and queen breeding
  • establishing a ‘Honey Library’ by profiling the unique chemical composition of NSW honey
  • researching projects on new honey markets and enhancing forest and bee health for high-value medicinal honey.

Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall says identifying public land that can be used for hives will help increase honey production.

“We will also lead the development of a ‘Honey Library’ to help identify the unique profile of NSW honey to ensure provenance as well as protect the high-quality reputation of the state’s industry,” Mr Marshall said.

Man charged as investigations into 2019 Nundle bushfire continue

Raging flames in a bushfire setting.
The fire burnt through more than 500 hectares of forest in October 2019.(AAP: Dean Lewins )

The ABC reported that a 19-year-old man has been charged with deliberately starting a bushfire that destroyed more than 500 hectares of the Nundle State Forest, south-east of Tamworth in NSW.

Key points:

  • Police have described the arrest as a “significant breakthrough”
  • They have not ruled out further arrests
  • The man will face court in July

Police will allege the then 17-year-old used stolen diesel to spread the fire through the forest in October 2019.

Officers said the arrest was a “significant breakthrough” in the “long-running” investigation.

Detective Inspector Jason Darcy said officers from Strike Force Silver Plate travelled to Singleton, in the Hunter Valley, to make Tuesday’s arrest.

“[They] arrested a young person for, we will allege, being responsible for lighting the fire and the theft of 200 litres of diesel.

“Police are confident that this young person was one of the people responsible for lighting the fire, and we all remember the devastation.”

Detective Inspector Darcy said the investigation was ongoing.

“We’re looking at other persons who might be responsible,” he said.

“We’re still making a public appeal to people in the Nundle area … if they have any information in relation to the fire to contact their local police station or Crime Stoppers.

Detective Inspector Darcy praised his detectives as well as the public.

“Like all long investigations, we rely on the public that gets us these breakthroughs,” he said.

The man has been granted conditional bail and will appear in Tamworth Children’s Court in July. 

Sea of red as Eurobodalla maps bushfire prone land

Eurobodalla farmland

A large area of Eurobodalla’s farm land has been recently mapped as bushfire prone after the Rural Fire Service recently recognised the risk of grasslands. Photo: ESC.

About Regional reported that more than 18,400 hectares of land have been added to the Eurobodalla’s bushfire prone land map as part of the latest review.

Every council in NSW is required by legislation to map bushfire prone land according to conditions set by the Rural Fire Service (RFS) in its Guide for Bush Fire Prone Land Mapping.

The map, reviewed and certified by the NSW RFS Commissioner, is used as a trigger to ensure new developments have adequate protection from bushfire.

Eurobodalla Shire Council says the new mapping is not a result of the Black Summer bushfires but a legislative requirement which was already being reviewed before they hit.

But the latest iteration is a sea of red for the Eurobodalla, highlighting the risks for residents in a shire where 70 per cent of the region is non-rateable Crown land held as national park and state forest.

Eurobodalla Council’s planning director Lindsay Usher said that land being mapped as bushfire prone did not prevent development from happening and existing buildings would not require retrospective modifications simply because they were now mapped

“The new mapping will only affect you if you are planning a new development on your property such as building, renovating or starting a home-based business,” he said.

“It is, however, a timely reminder for all property owners to ensure they have a bushfire survival plan.”

Depending on the level of risk, mitigation, measures may need to be incorporated into developments ranging from things like metal flyscreens and gutter guards, to modifying the style, construction material or location of a building.Bushfire prone land map

The Eurobodalla’s certified bushfire prone land map is a sea of red. Photo: ESC.

Most land in Eurobodalla is considered bushfire prone with pockets of urban land in and around Batemans Bay, Moruya and Narooma not considered at risk.

Mr Usher said the RFS had recently updated its guidelines since the last map to recognise the risk of grasslands resulting in a lot of Eurobodalla’s farmland being newly mapped.


READ ALSO: Moruya machinery club to rise from ashes after losing clubhouse in bushfires


“About an additional 18,400 hectares of land have now been designated as bushfire prone land in the new map,” Mr Usher said.

“The vast majority of these, 639 properties, are on rural RU1 land.”

You can view the map here. For more information, visit council’s website, contact council’s development helpdesk via email development@esc.nsw.gov.au or phone 4474 1231.

Top bushfire experts will meet in the Blue Mountains for the Australian Bushfire Building Conference

The Blue Montains Gazette reported that many of the nation’s top bushfire experts will meet in the Blue Mountains later this year to share their knowledge and experience of how to protect communities from the threat of bushfires.

Now in its seventh year, the Australian Bushfire Building Conference is the only event of its kind for professionals involved in the planning, designing, building, landscaping, consulting, regulating, and certifying of buildings in bushfire-prone areas.

Seven years since first bushfire building conference

 Seven years since first bushfire building conference

The three day event will run from August 25 – 27 at the Fairmont Resort in Leura with the theme for this year’s conference being “Addressing the Tensions: Are we getting the balance right?”

Topics for discussion include: lessons learnt from the 2020/21 bushfire season, bushfire behaviour and landscaping, planning controls, building regulations, bushfire design and construction resilience recovery and innovation.

Blue Mountains Council mayor Mark Greenhill said: “As a community with extensive, lived experienced of the threat and long-term impacts of bushfires, the Blue Mountains are perfectly positioned to host this conference. This event will be an incredible opportunity for some of the Australia’s best minds to come together to help us all build resilience in the face of extreme weather events”.ADVERTISING

For those that are unable to attend in-person, all sessions of the conference will be live streamed across a dedicated digital platform.

This event is brought by council, Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise and major partner, the NSW Rural Fire Service.https://d38a04f79ce4d84182d42bd5600bb181.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The conference organisers are calling for presenters. To apply, submit your presentation summary by May 31 at: https://bushfireconference.com.au/call-for-speakers-2/.

Smoke alert issued after NSW RFS and Forestry Corporation NSW conduct hazard reduction burns near Armidale

Warning issued to residents as firefighters conduct hazard reductions

The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) and Forestry Corporation NSW (FCNSW) will conduct a hazard reduction burn in the Armidale Pine Forest on Saturday and Armidale residents are being warned to take care, reports the Southern Daily Leader.

“We advise Armidale residents to take appropriate precautions, such as keeping doors and windows closed, removing washing from clothes lines and making sure pets are in a protected area,” NSW RFS Zone Manager Mark Denton said.

“Motorists in the area should also slow down and take care if driving through smoke, keep the windows up, switch the car air-conditioner to recirculated air mode and turn headlights on.”

About 32 NSW RFS members will take part in the hazard reduction operation, joined by crews from FCNSW.ADVERTISING

Mr Denton said the hazard reduction operation is due to start at 10am and finish by 4pm.

“Hazard reduction plays a vital role in helping to reduce the intensity of bushfires,” he said.

“This controlled burn will increase protection of the Waldorf School and surrounding properties as well as assist our firefighters to control any future bushfires in the area.”

Mr Denton also said it is important to take advantage of suitable weather conditions to conduct hazard reduction burning as soon as they occur.

“Each year only a small window of opportunity exists where weather conditions are conducive to controlled burns,” he said.

“For a hazard reduction burn to be successful, we require the right wind and temperature conditions as well as ground fuels to be sufficiently dry.”

High expectations on fire warnings

The Blue Mopuintains Gazette reports that people near bushfires have unrealistic hopes about the warnings issued by authorities, a study has found.

Although updates, such as those on the Fires Near Me app, are only a fairly recent development in bushfire safety, expectations have grown that they should be very detailed and localised and in near real time.

This was one of the key findings of a study conducted for the NSW RFS by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.

 A burnt road sign near Bell in January 2020.

 A burnt road sign near Bell in January 2020.

There were 202 in-depth interviews conducted with people affected by the fires and a further 1,004 others completed an online survey. There were a number of people from the Blue Mountains in both groups.

The researchers looked at how risks were communicated, how well people were prepared and the experiences of tourists and visitors.

They found that 78 per cent of people relied on the Fires Near Me app and would continue to do so.

And while there were great benefits in providing more localised and detailed information about the likely spread and impact of bushfires, there were risks this might encourage people to delay taking action.

“Those who plan to leave during bushfires should do so long before they are directly threatened,” the report said.

Lead researcher, Dr Josh Whittaker from the University of Wollongong, said: “Community expectations of warnings and information appear to be growing… People want this information in order to make more ‘responsive’ or ‘timely’ decisions about protective actions.”

NSW RFS director of communications and engagement, Anthony Clark, said the study provided valuable feedback to authorities.

“The research sets out that while fire services like the RFS are critical in mitigating the risk, it isn’t for government or emergency services alone. While the quality and amount of preparedness information and warnings improves, the community can’t afford to become overly reliant. The community must do its part to prepare and respond,” he said.

Allan Tull’s fatal helicopter crash likely caused by medical episode, ATSB finds

A man sitting at the controls of a helicopter
Pilot Allan Tull was killed in a helicopter crash on the NSW south coast, where firefighters had been battling the Kingiman fire in August 2018. (Supplied: Facebook)

The ABC reports that an investigation has found that a helicopter pilot, who died in a crash while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales in 2018, most likely suffered a medical episode due to a pre-existing heart condition he was unaware of.

Key points:

  • An ATSB investigation finds Allan Tull likely suffered a medical episode before his helicopter crashed
  • The 57-year-old had been battling the Kingiman fire at Ulladulla in 2018 when he was killed
  • The Transport Safety Bureau says it did not identify any defects with the aircraft

Pilot Allan Tull, 57, was battling the Kingiman bushfire near Ulladulla, on the south coast, when the bucket and longline of his water-bomber helicopter became caught in trees and caused the helicopter to crash.

An investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has found Mr Tull likely suffered an incapacitating medical event, that caused him to lose control of the aircraft, while he was repeatedly water-bombing the fire.

The investigation did not identify any defects with the helicopter.

It concluded that Mr Tull suffered from a pre-existing condition that could cause sudden impairment.

“The pilot’s post-mortem identified a focus of acute inflammatory change in the heart muscle, a condition known as lymphocytic myocarditis,” ATSB director, transport safety, Stuart Macleod said.

“This condition is capable of causing sudden impairment or complete incapacitation.

The ATSB said Mr Tull’s post-mortem found that he also had coronary heart disease, which was also capable of causing sudden impairment, but there was insufficient evidence to determine if either heart condition contributed to the crash.

A photograph of a man next to flowers and a helmet.
Pilot Allan Tull was posthumously awarded a NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner’s commendation for service.(Supplied: NSW Rural Fire Service)

Not restrained properly

Mr Tull was an experienced pilot, with more than 7,000 flying hours and had previously helped battle fires in Tasmania.

However, the investigation revealed that Mr Tull was not restrained properly prior at the time of the accident.

“Pilots are reminded to always use UTRs if they are fitted to the aircraft.”

Mr Tull was posthumously awarded a medal from the Rural Fire Service in the wake of the crash.

Former RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the commendation was not presented lightly.

“It was only appropriate in the mind of the Rural Fire Service that we honour Tully,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

A obelisk has been erected at Ulladulla with a plaque in Mr Tull’s memory. 

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