News Roundup August 18th

NRMA First Saturday

The NRMA has released a new website encouraging property owners to get ready for the next fire season. Its called First Saturday and there is a v ery good movie if you scroll down the page.

Lots of good advice!

The last press release we saw from the Insurance Council of Australia indicated that the losses from fires was up to $2.32 billion … much of this preventable.

A Second Chance For Bushfire-Affected Timber

Mirage News reported that Wodonga-based national transport company SCT Logistics will transport millions of tonnes of plantation timber burnt in NSW during the summer bushfires that would otherwise go to waste, thanks to support from the Victorian Government.

Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes confirmed support for SCT Logistics’ $3.65 million expansion of their Wodonga operations through the Regional Jobs Fund, which will enable the company to process and transport the burnt timber to Melbourne for export.

The expansion of SCT’s Wodonga site will increase capacity at its terminal so that up to 11,700 tonnes a week of bushfire-affected softwood can arrive from NSW, where the timber was burnt.

The project will create five new jobs and support more than 80 indirect jobs and new export opportunities for Victoria.

Timber processors have a window between 18 and 24 months before bushfire-affected softwood loses its value and there is currently not enough capacity with the industry to handle and store the additional timber felled this year as a result of the 2019/20 bushfires.

Facilitator Rod Barnaby appointed to ensure business bounces back from bushfires

Port News reported that two local business facilitators have been appointed to ensure bushfire-affected businesses on the Mid North Coast have received all the assistance they are eligible for.

Rod Barnaby is the facilitator appointed for the Port Macquarie and Kempsey regions and Peter Bastian has been appointed to assist businesses in the Nambucca Valley region.

Mr Barnaby is well known to the Macleay-Port Macquarie business community from his work with Biodiversity Solutions and his roles on regional boards with Destination North Coast, the Hastings Co-op Ltd, Bundaleer Care Services and, until recently, Regional Development Australia Mid North Coast.

Mr Bastian has an extensive business development background, more recently as Business Development Executive with Business Australia, Mid North Coast, for 14 years.

He also has an extensive career in media in Australia and London and has owned his own media consultancy business in Nambucca for nine years.

Mr Barnaby and Mr Bastian will help bushfire-affected small and medium-sized enterprises recover and re-establish themselves and analyse if they have received all available Australian and NSW government assistance.

Endangered antechinus, the native Springbrook marsupial with a suicidal sex life, missing since bushfires

The ABC reported that scientists on the hunt for an endangered native marsupial in the Gold Coast hinterland are worried for the future of the species after last year’s bushfires.

QUT senior lecturer and mammologist Andrew Baker said he would expect up to 20 captures of the endangered black-tailed dusky antechinus during their winter field trips, but so far they have trapped none.

“The preliminary survey results in June-August this year show further evidence of a marked decline in not just the antechinuses, but all small mammals,” Dr Baker said.

Springbrook National Park was spared the 2019 bushfires that destroyed the historic Binna Burra Lodge in neighbouring Lamington National Park.

“The forests were primed to burn and the populations were pretty heavily impacted even before the fires started, because of drought,” Dr Baker said.

Forster squirrel glider population bouncing back after bushfires

THe ABC also reported that a  population of squirrel gliders in Forster, on the NSW Mid North Coast, is doing well and may have even increased after a bushfire last year.

When fire swept through nature reserves in Forster in November last year council was worried about the impact on the population.

Of 64 nesting boxes installed in the reserves, 24 burned.

“We suspected that there would have been significant mortality just by the number of natural hollow-bearing trees that were burnt and lost,” senior ecologist Matt Bell said.

“Also with the nesting boxes that were burnt and lost we do suspect that there would have been quite a significant loss of glider population.

“To see family groups inhabiting the nesting boxes now gives us hope that the population is rebounding through natural recruitment.”

Council uses motion-activated cameras as part of its monitoring of the nocturnal creatures, which has revealed the good news.

“The occupancy of the boxes that we’ve installed has increased since the bushfire,” Mr Bell said.

The burned boxes have since been replaced with the help of a number of conservation groups.

Squirrel gliders are listed as a vulnerable species in NSW, with threats including loss of habitat and predation from cats and foxes.

A Burning History

The Uniting Church magazine Insights published this book review of Victor Steffensen’s book Fire Country. Well worth a read.

NSW Deputy Premier wants volunteer firefighters paid

2GB reported that

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro wants volunteer firefighters to be paid next fire season.

NSW RFS members worked tirelessly last fire season to extinguish blazes ripping through towns.

Mr Barilaro told Ben Fordham they deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.

“Some of these volunteers are on the fireground for a month, two months, three months … that’s beyond volunteering.

“There should be a trigger point where they get compensated for their time.”

Click PLAY below to hear the full interview

High-risk trees to be logged from Gwydir highway, clearing bushfire menace, by September

The Glen Innes Examiner reported that Government work crews hope to have removed trees at risk of blocking roads during a bushfire from a New England highway by the end of September.

Falling trees are just one of the risks to families fleeing a bushfire threat. Two volunteer firefighters were killed after their truck rolled after it was hit by a falling tree outside Buxton in January.

Minister for Disaster Recovery John Barilaro said teams were busy removing trees with a high risk of falling from the sides of the Gwydir highway. The road connects Glen Innes to Grafton. It was cut by bushfire last year.

“We know how important it is to be prepared ahead of the upcoming bushfire season after the devastation of last summer’s bushfires,” he said.

“When trees fall across the road during a bushfire, entire communities can be cut off from emergency services or from travelling to safety and this is why we are putting preventative measures in place to identify and remove trees which pose a risk.”

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said teams have been assessing the forest for the last fortnight.

In areas where wildlife needs to be moved, affected fauna will be relocated, he said.

Mr Toole said Transport for NSW teams had also been replacing burnt culverts with new pipes that are more capable of withstanding bushfire impacts.

The work, which started last week, is expected to be complete by late September, weather permitting.

Bushfire evacuations risky in ‘one road in, one road out’ coastal towns, inquiry told

The Newcastle Herald reported that fire was already impacting on the outskirts of Tathra before a “shelter now” warning was released to the public, a NSW bushfire inquiry was told today.

On day 11 of the Tathra bushfire coronial inquiry, NSW Rural Fire Service assistant deputy commissioner Jason Heffernan, who has also been the agency’s director of response and coordination since 2017, said severe weather and multiple fires across the state may have delayed the sending of the only contracted line scan aircraft to the Far South Coast on the day of the fire.

The inquiry had earlier heard while flames were impacting on Thompson Dr around 3pm, a “shelter now” warning to residents was not sent out until more than half an hour later.

Mr Heffernan said during earlier discussions, the raising of the alert level was not considered.

“Information to ourselves at that point in time did not give an indication it was warranted,” Mr Heffernan told the inquiry.

A warning was sent out at 3.48pm, with a broader warning at 3.58pm and another at 5.36pm, he said.

Read more here.

Australian Bushfire Building Conference now confirmed

Architecture and Design reported that the Australian Bushfire Building Conference has confirmed it will go ahead as a live and virtual event this year from Thursday, 17th – Friday, 18th September with presentations from Australia’s top bushfire researchers.

Hosted by the Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise (BMEE), the 6th Australian Bushfire Building Conference will explore the theme of: Stronger and Smarter – Lessons Learnt.

The live event will be held in Leura at the Fairmont Resort, located in the Blue Mountains, NSW. Emergency Broadcaster ABC Radio’s Simon Marnie will be Master of Ceremonies during the morning session on Thursday.

The virtual event will be held within the OnAir from EventsAir portal, and will include online discussion groups, live polling, networking groups, and an online meeting hub to meet virtually with other like-minded industry professionals. Both the virtual and live event will operate simultaneously.

BlazeAid boosts Bombala in bushfire recovery

Mirage News reported that volunteer organisation BlazeAid is continuing their local recovery work in the Bombala area with their contribution of labour, goods and services amounting to $1 million in just six months.

BlazeAid certainly hit the ground running since arriving in March 2020 post the bushfires, amassing some 4000 volunteer days, clearing and installing over 70 kilometres of fencing plus bolstering the fire affected community financially to the tune of $350,000 by purchasing locally.

Local camp coordinator Stuart Beazley has been impressed by the unity of locals and volunteers.

“We are very appreciative of the community’s support. It’s been a big effort from our volunteers and the community over a number of months as we work alongside landholders to repair bushfire damaged fences,” said Stuart.

BlazeAid’s motto ‘not just rebuilding fences, but helping rebuild lives’ rings true in the Bombala area.

“We were at breaking point and ready to throw in the towel, then along came BlazeAid. I cannot thank them enough for the work they do. BlazeAid Bombala gave me hope when I felt everything was lost. It was a real turning point, they made a huge difference to our lives,” said Rockton resident Melissa.

Recognition of BlazeAid’s commitment to community now spans the world with the organisation recently receiving an esteemed volunteering award. The Commonwealth Points of Light Award, honours and recognises outstanding individual volunteers – people who are making a change in their community.

Awarded by the Her Majesty The Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, it is to thank inspirational volunteers across the 53 Commonwealth nations for the difference they are making in their communities and beyond and BlazeAid picked up this year’s Australian accolade.

“I am delighted to virtually present Kevin and Rhonda Butler with this award for their dedication and commitment to both their own community and other communities in Australia who have been impacted by natural disasters – including the recent devastating bushfires. They are making a significant impact on the lives of those that benefit from BlazeAid’s work” said Vicki Treadell, British High Commissioner to Australia.

Share your story for bushfire research

The Macarthur Advertiser reported that residents of Wollondilly and the Southern Highlands, as well as visitors to the area, are being asked to share their experiences of the devastating 2019/20 bushfire season.

A new research project being conducted by the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre and the University of Wollongong, on behalf of the NSW Rural Fire Service, seeks to learn from the experiences of people who were in the area at the time the Green Wattle Creek bushfire hit last year, in an effort to continue to improve community bushfire safety.

Researchers want to hear directly from residents and visitors about their fire preparedness and the responses to the bushfires across the state.

Lead researcher Dr Josh Whittaker said the views of anyone who was affected by the fire were important.

“Your experience is unique and can help make a difference during future bushfires,” he said.

“We would like to better understand bushfire risk and awareness, actions you may have taken to plan and prepare, and how you responded to warnings and the bushfires, whether you were directly or indirectly affected.

“It is important to hear from residents, as well tourists, visitors or those who might have been at their holiday home.”

The state government must empower landowners to guard against bushfires

Recommendations from the Bushfire Inquiry may mean landholders will be allowed to clear their own land.Picture: Terry Pontikos

The bushfire inquiry report is set to give the government the chance to empower individual landholders to manage their own land without being treated like a criminal. But will the government have the courage to follow through, asks Anna Caldwell in the Daily Telegraph.

After every horror bushfire season, landholders ask, why can’t I do more to make my property safer? And every time, the government of the day squibs it, kicking the question into the long grass, which, if the greenies have anything to do with it, will be illegal to trim.

But now, finally, there is a chance for change.

I can reveal that there are some stunning recommendations in the bushfire inquiry report, handed to the Berejiklian government two weeks ago, which pave the way to empower the individual landholder to do more to, yes, clear some of their own land.

Broadly, some of the recommendations should give residents in bushfire-prone com­munities hope. They include:

● Adopting the principle that cultural burning is part of ­traditional land management,

● Pressuring Transport for NSW to clear roadside vegetation and ensure emergency access and exit from fire-prone communities,

● Considering subsidies for landholders to manage their own land and allowing them to do so without undue cost and complexity,

● Reviewing vegetation clearing processes at an individual level to ensure they are easy to ­navigate, and

● Supporting councils and ­“empowering community” at a local level to take charge of hazard reduction, including with prescribed burning, clearing, mowing and land treatments.

The review, by former chief scientist Mary O’Kane and former deputy police commissioner Dave Owens, is expected to go to cabinet for a formal government response and be ­announced to the public within a ­fortnight.

I understand the government will be presented with an opportunity to do more to empower the individual landholder to protect themselves and take steps to manage their own land without being treated like a criminal.

But again, will they take it?

After all, we’re not talking about harbourside dwellers firing up the chainsaw to open up their view, we are talking about residents of fire-prone properties clearing trees from their own land beyond the 10m radius that is currently applied. This distinction is easy to comprehend and would be welcomed by sensible voters.

‘Crying wolf’: Ex-RFS official raises concern about public messaging during ACT fire

The Canberra Tines reported that the Emergency Services Agency’s public messaging during the Orroral Valley fire created unnecessary fear, panic and confusion in the community, according to a former long-serving rural fire service official.

Ian McArthur has also become the latest person to raise concerns about the use of air tankers to suppress the Orroral Valley blaze in the hours after it ignited in Namadgi National Park in late January.

Mr McArthur was the ACT Rural Fire Service’s deputy chief fire control officer from 1986 until 2001 and has more than 40 years of fire management experience with territory and Victorian authorities.

In a submission to the ACT Legislative Assembly’s inquiry into the bushfire season, he said ACT authorities overstated the threat the Orroral Valley blaze posed to Canberra’s southern suburbs.

Maps published on January 31 showed the Orroral Valley fire could reach residential areas if the worse-case scenario eventuated.

The agency, in particular commissioner Georgeina Whelan, was widely praised for its public messaging at the height of the emergency, which included frequent live-streamed press conferences and social media updates. As the fire loomed over the ACT’s southern outskirts, the agency organised community briefings and helped door knock homes in Tuggeranong.

The scale public messaging was widely seen as an attempt to avoid the errors made during the horror 2003 Canberra bushfires.

But Mr McArthur said in his submission that the messaging went “too far the other way” during this summer’s emergency, and was akin to “crying wolf”.

“Anyone with a basic understanding of weather patterns and the ability to read a map would know the likelihood of the fire reaching the southern suburbs was very low,” he said.

“The messaging should have gone along the lines of: ‘there is a large fire to the south of Canberra but there is no immediate or foreseeable danger but Canberra citizens will be kept well informed.

“What went out to the public created unnecessary fear, confusion and panic.”

Mr McArthur’s comments echo those made by volunteer firefighters in an internal review conducted in the wake of the fire season.

The agency has repeatedly defended its handling of the emergency, including its public messaging, affirming that it was proud of how it kept Canberrans safe and informed during the ACT’s worst fire season since 2003.

Mr McArthur, who worked in bushfire research after graduating from ANU in the 1970s, said that while the Orroral Valley fire appeared to be managed well overall, there were questions about the early response.

He said the use of air tankers was “questionable”, arguing that dropping fire retardant was expensive and ineffective. He noted his involvement in early research on aerial firefighting, which he said found the tactic was not a “cost effective” tool for suppressing fires.

senior volunteer firefighter and well-known local farmer have expressed similar concerns to the inquiry about the reliance on air tankers to fight the Orroral Valley blaze in its early stages.

Fire crews battling the blaze in the hours after it ignited had to leave the fireground while they waited for the retardant drop, costing them time that could have been spent attempting to contain the emerging fire.

Mr McArthur told The Canberra Times that the agency should have sent as many tankers and plant machinery as possible into Namadgi National Park in the crucial first few hours.

“Once the fire gets past a certain stage the air tanker is just not going to put it out,” he said.

“I don’t think the response was right.”

Moruya Bushfire Recovery Support Service officially launched

The Batemans Bay Post reported that Gilmore MP Fiona Phillips has welcomed the establishment of a bushfire case management service in Moruya.

She said the Eurobodalla Bushfire Recovery Support Service was jointly funded by the Australian and NSW Governments to provide one-on-one support to people affected by the bushfires.

Ms Phillips said nine months after the outbreak of fire South Coast people still struggled to navigate “complex bushfire recovery processes”.

She said she was delighted to join recovery service coordinator Jane Moxon and Eurobodalla Shire Council at the official opening of the service on Friday, August 14.

“Some time may have passed, but the reality is that people impacted by the bushfires are still hurting,” Ms Phillips said.

“There is help out there but it has often been confusing and difficult for people to find.

“Not only this, but people continually tell me how distressing it is to tell your story over and over.”

A spokesperson said the service had received 400 referrals since opening on July 13.

Six case managers had been employed and two more were being recruited.

Researchers tackle South Coast bushfire and disaster recovery

Mirage News reports:

Projects address response to fires, floods and pandemic across Illawarra, Shoalhaven, and the Far South Coast

As the Southern Highlands, Far South Coast and Shoalhaven recover from bushfire, drought and floods, and endure the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Wollongong (UOW) has prioritised research projects that address our response to natural disasters.

The University’s Global Challenges Program has brought together teams of researchers to tackle different aspects of disaster and crisis response in the region, with more than 70 researchers across 10 project teams set to work with impacted communities over the coming months.

Global Challenges Executive Director Senior Professor Sharon Robinson said the initiative stems from a belief that UOW has a civic responsibility to the communities in which it operates.

“We feel a responsibility to our own communities and own region, which has seen terrible bushfires, a pandemic and now floods,” Professor Robinson said.

“Many people in our communities are still without homes, living in caravans or camping, and now can’t do the things that we as people need to do to come together and heal. We know many feel they have been forgotten, because of the COVID pandemic. Many of our researchers were themselves directly impacted by the bushfires.

“It has been a priority to engage teams of researchers who weren’t just doing research on the community but that are working with the community.”

The disaster and crisis response projects are:

  • Building community bushfire resilience – looks at the Kangaroo Valley’s experience of the Currowan fire, assessing bushfire preparedness, building retrofits, response and recovery;
  • Self-care of older Australians – explores self-care and general practice nursing support of older persons affected by disaster in Eurobodalla Shire;
  • Ready for anything – the role and performance of evacuation centres during the bushfires, with the Bermagui evacuation centre as the primary case study;
  • Water quality and biodiversity during bushfires – the impact of fires and flood on PFAS contaminated sites at Jervis Bay and at HMAS Albatross, Nowra;
  • #recoversouthcoast – how social media use is affecting bushfire recovery in Bega and the Far South Coast;
  • Cultural burning for resilience – a pilot youth-led workshop at Bundanon to support positive cultural identity and resilience in Aboriginal youth;
  • Disability inclusion and capacity building – the bushfire and pandemic experiences of disabled people in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven to understand their capacities and needs;
  • Adaptive and Protective Transport – COVID-19’s impact on transport and mobility for seniors and the mobility-impaired in Wollongong and Liverpool;
  • Stories for healing – investigates stories from bushfires in Tathra, Cobargo, Batemans Bay, Mogo, Ulladulla, Nowra and Kangaroo Valley to identify practices that enhance healing and recovery for people, their communities and Country;
  • Weed management in post-fire landscapes – Creating a resource to transform post-bushfire weed management across the region.

ACT RFS calls for fire tower operators ahead of upcoming bushfire season

The Riot ACT reported that when pastry-chef turned firefighter Chris Condon got the call from his dad in early January that the Dunns Road fire had made a dash for their property in Adaminaby, he knew it was going to be a fire season like no other.

“With last year’s season, given the catastrophic drought this side of the country was experiencing, the land was primed for bad fires if we had the ignition sources given the water deprivation from the lack of rainfall over the years,” he said.

“These fire towers play a critical role in the early detection of the fires as was demonstrated with the Orroral Valley fire.”

Chris, who has been a firefighter for 17 years and fought in Canberra’s 2003 fires, Victoria’s Black Saturday in 2009 and in Canada in 2017, lauded how far fire preparation and detection had come over his years of firefighting.

As a senior rural liaison officer in the ACT after spending a decade with the Parks and Conservation Service, he knows all too well how vital the early detection of a fire is, having worked with landholders down near Tharwa, which came under threat from the Orroral Valley fire and was hit by ember attacks in February.

The Coree Fire Tower provides a lookout over Tidbinbilla and the Brindabellas. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

“The Tennent fire tower operator very quickly picked up the smoke column from the fire and reported that through and we were very quickly able to determine that that was a fire inside the ACT,” he said.

“The operators were able to give us a running brief for a period of time about what that fire was doing and how quickly it was building, which gave us an idea of what we were dealing with.”

The four towers in the ACT – at Mount Tennent, Mount Coree, One Tree Hill and Kowen Forrest – can all link up to see each other, overlooking Tidbinbilla, Namadgi and the Brindabellas. Under the right circumstances, it is possible to get a very accurate depiction of a fire’s location and size with four operators providing a 360-degree view.

“On a clear day you can see the curvature of the earth on the horizon from the fire towers – the view is that great.”

Fire tower operators need to have a love of the bush and be able to spend long periods alone. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Fire tower operators need to have a love of the bush and be able to spend long periods alone. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

And now the ACT RFS is looking for more recruits to be stationed in the towers ahead of the upcoming fire season.

“[We are looking for] anyone that has a keen interest in protecting the ACT and its community from the risk of bushfire as they are playing that pivotal role of early detection of fires in the landscape,” Chris said.

“Also, people who do not mind being in the bush and being on their own for long periods of time!”

While the towers are not the most glamorous buildings, operators are responsible for the potentially life-saving role of early bushfire detection by monitoring fire and weather conditions, locating fires using a map and compass bearing and then relaying that information by radio.

Operators will also be trained in basic wildfire awareness, first aid, four-wheel driving and communications.

“Their primary role will be fire tower operations, but when they are not in the towers they will be providing support to the RFS to undertake works we need assistance with, such as maintenance and support,” Chris said.

For more information, or to apply, visit Jobs ACT. Applications close 18 August.

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