Bushfires royal commission granted another two months to file report

The New Daily reported that the natural disasters royal commission has been given an extra two months to finish its work because of the impact of coronavirus restrictions.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements now has until October 28 to deliver its final report.

It will now present interim observations on August 31, so work can still be done in preparation for the next bushfire season.

Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said commission chair Mark Binskin asked for the short extension.

“The royal commission chair has advised the government that the disruption caused by the pandemic placed unavoidable pressures on a number of stakeholders to provide information to the royal commission in a timely manner,” Mr Littleproud said.

The extension would also give the commission more time to consider the hundreds of thousands of pages of material it had received in submissions and responses to requests for information and its published papers.

ACT farmers call for better bushfire protection from national parks

The Canberra Times reported that work to protect farms neighbouring national parks in the ACT from bushfires was insufficient in the lead up to summer, the ACT Rural Landholders Association has said.

Landowners were also frustrated by not being allowed to actively fight the fire front to protect their properties, the association’s president, Tom Allen, said in a submission to the Legislative Assembly’s inquiry into the emergency services response to the fire season.

“If not for the continual pre-fire preparation and management by all farmers, the extent of destruction would have been greater. Additionally, the ACT losses sustained outside the [Namadgi National Park] were relatively ‘light’, due to relatively mild night time conditions,” Mr Allen said.

He said efforts by farmers meant no stock was burnt, no firefighters had to extinguish a house fire and the damage was limited but the lack of acknowledgement of farmers’ local experience and capability continued to be frustrating.

Mr Allen said better fire breaks between the Namadgi National Park and farms maintained through the year would help protect properties when fires did start and reduce the cost of emergency trails.

He said the newly-dozed fire tracks had become weed beds which would need to be managed into the future.

“Introducing boundary buffer areas between reserves and farms is needed, with actions required on both sides of the boundary, not solely the responsibility of farmers. If a 25 metres [asset protection zone] on the [Namadgi national park] side of the boundary fence was routinely maintained, the dozing of ‘last-minute’ trails at huge expense would not be necessary,” Mr Allen said.

Mr Allen said some association members had also suggested opportunities were missed to use back burning operations to limit the fire spread and intensity and prior hazard-reduction burning was insufficient.

“In eastern Australia this summer around eight percent of the land has burned, most of it on, or started on, government managed land. It is evident that the scale of hazard reduction burning being undertaken is insufficient to stop bushfires getting out of control,” he said.

“The Tharwa farming community support the approach of mosaic burning for asset protection and ecosystem health. If the techniques to do this are now too risky, or systems no longer suitable, then other ways of working are needed to achieve the desired end results.”

He also said more support was needed for recovery works on private properties

Kimberley Starr’s Torched, set in the aftermath of apocalyptic bushfires, is terrifyingly real

The Canberra Times reported that there are times when the creation of art unintentionally foreshadows true events, in a way that is both eerie and telling.

Torched was conceived and written in the years following the Black Saturday fires in Victoria – but released in the aftermath of the 2019/20 bushfire crisis, the novel is terrifyingly real.

Based in the small town of Brunton in the Yarra Valley, the novel begins on the day of apocalyptic fires which wipe out huge swathes of the surrounding region and kill 10 people.

Phoebe Warton is desperately seeking her troubled teenage son, missing on the day. When Caleb finally reappears, he is unwilling to account for a 45-minute window of time – a period in which authorities claim he set the fire himself in an act of arson.  Disaffected and disconnected from society, Caleb is an easy scapegoat for the fires, which politicians are unwilling to link to climate change. But did he actually do it? Or is this a witch hunt?

Torched has a fascinating premise, and Starr writes with a haunting clarity of detail which makes the fires feel alarmingly real (perhaps made more effective due to the memories of this past year which seemed to linger on every page of the novel).

Teen blacksmith Tyler Budden sharpens blade skills after knife-edge NSW bushfires escape

The ABC reported that you might think working with flames would be the last thing 16-year-old Tyler Budden would want.  His family’s Rainbow Flat property came through the Mid-Coast November bushfires unscathed, barely. Fences and a caravan that had been home for three years during construction of the house were burnt.  At the end of the rod is a rectangular piece of metal Tyler will pound with a hammer to shape into a knife.

“The forging itself may take a day just to get it right. Then there is grinding, polishing, etching the blade and making the handle. It could take me two-to-three days to make one knife,” he said.

Despite the close call, he convinced his parents to build a blacksmith shop on the property where he forges knives he says are attracting interest from around Australia and overseas.

“School is how I started. In science lessons, watching videos. I saw people casting swords and making cool things. I was amazed,” he said, standing outside a shipping container-turned-blacksmith shop, eyes fixed on a steel rod protruding from the forge.  Initially the knives only evoked interest locally, but signs he was onto something bigger emerged when one of Tyler’s teachers contacted his mother, Kristy Budden, asking if she was knew what her son was doing.

At first, she worried that he was in trouble, only to be extremely relieved when the teacher asked if he could buy one of Tyler’s works.

“I was not overly happy, because knowing Tyler I knew that when he said he was going to make a knife that when he made a knife it would be a real knife, a very sharp knife,” she said. Those knives Tyler now makes alongside his 15-year-old school friend Rourke Hudson are not only sharp but have intricate designs etched into the blades.

This is achieved when the two melt up to six layers of steel into a block which is again heated and worked into a blade.

Memorial fire truck playground to be built in Buxton

The Macarthur Advertiser reported that Buxton will soon be home to a fire truck themed playground in memory of the sacrifices made by firefighters and families during the 2019/2020 fire season.

Wollondilly Council approved an amendment of the Telopea Park Master Plan at last Tuesay’s council meeting to allow for the installation of a Rural Fire Service (RFS) Fire Truck Memorial Playground within the park

The request for a memorial playground at Telopea Park was raised by the Buxton community as a fitting tribute to late RFS volunteers, Andrew O’Dwyer and Geoffrey Keaton, who tragically lost their lives while battling the Green Wattle Creek Bushfire last year.

Mayor Matthew Deeth said the new playground would serve as an important reminder of the fire event.

“This will be a wonderful tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives defending our residents and their homes from the bushfires, and an important reminder to the local community of what happened during the 2019-20 bushfires,” he said.  “I’d like to thank the community advocates, particularly the Buxton RFS and Kim Hill, who successfully secured a range of external funding towards the playground equipment.

“Their hard work and enthusiasm will help make this project a reality.” The council also included the families of the fallen firefighters during their community engagement process.  Funding was also allocated from the Commonwealth Government’s $1 million Recovery Grant in February.

The community engagement process identified the preferred location for the new playground within the park and demonstrated overwhelming community support for the project. Many respondents also suggested the inclusion of some park seats and plaques specifically dedicated to the two firefighters.

The Telopea Park Master Plan amendments will include:

An RFS Fire Truck Memorial Playground with shade provision, landscaping and park seating, including memorial plaque/s.

An update of the existing playground with the selected design, allowing for future shade structure provision

Adapting the connection routes between some of the facilities due to minor changes required during construction

Farm insurance a hot topic after bushfire crisis

The Goulburn Post reported that the cost of farm insurance is expected to increase over the next few years. While recent bushfires and natural disasters have had a part to play, the bigger picture is much more complicated

Achmea Farm Insurance risk specialist for the Southern Highlands, Tablelands and the South Coast Gerard Bennett said the company implemented a 10 per cent increase before the fires last year. Mr Bennett said the increase was just “coming into play now”.

He said the recent bushfires definitely would make an impact but it was difficult to know the extent. Mr Bennett said Achmea hoped to maintain insurance levels for the near future.

“There is no doubt that bushfires and natural disasters caused increases but there are a number of factors that went into it,” he said.

Insurance Council of Australia CEO Rob Whelan said so far insurers had received 37,804 claims totalling $2.34 billion in relation to recent bushfires.

He said bushfires made up almost half of last season’s natural disasters, with the total claims bill now more than $5.3 billion.

Bushfire research centre wins $88 million funding

Insurance News reports that the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre (BNHCRC) has secured its future with a decade of public funding which the government says will herald a new era of natural hazards research and deliver real outcomes.

The organisation has been awarded $88.1 million and approval to build a new, world-class research centre for disaster resilience and risk reduction over the coming 12 months.

It will develop a new strategic research agenda for Australia alongside partners CSIRO, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council, state-based emergency service agencies, universities and industry partners.

BNHCRC chair Katherine Woodthorpe says the new investment will allow Australia to remain at the forefront of natural hazards research.

“As a country, we must continue to improve how we prepare for, respond to, and recover from bushfires, cyclones, floods and storms,” Ms Woodthorpe said. “This will continue the coordinated national research effort of the last 18 years.”

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) welcomed news of the new centre, which will be co-funded by state and territory governments and emergency service agencies, universities and industry partners, and represent a national collaborative effort.

“It is the research findings that arm emergency services, planners, builders, developers and communities with the information they need to continue to improve resilience, response and recovery to future natural disasters,” ICA Head of Risk & Operations Karl Sullivan said.

The BNHCRC’s funding had been due to end in mid 2021.

The new round includes an additional $2 million to immediately investigate key issues after last summer’s extreme bushfire season, which Emergency Management minister David Littleproud said “lingers in the national psyche” and had firmed the government’s resolve to commit to the new 10-year national research centre.

Deadline approaching for Services Australia bushfire assistance claims

The Canberra Times reported that the deadline is approaching to claim Services Australia’s disaster assistance for the 2019-20 bushfires.

Those in Services Australia’s ‘declared’ Local Government Areas may be eligible for the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP) or the Disaster Recovery Allowance, but they would need to get in before the main NSW cut-off of August 4.

Along with financial assistance for people and communities affected by the bushfires, free counselling and additional mental health support is available for individuals, families and emergency services workers affected by the bushfires.

The AGDRP is for people significantly affected by a declared disaster and is a one-off payment of $1,000 per adult and $400 for each child under 16.

If you’re eligible for the AGDRP and you have a child in your care, you could also receive the Additional Payment for Children – an additional $400 on top of the AGDRP. You don’t need to claim it separately – it will be paid into your bank account automatically, according to Services Australia.

The Disaster Recovery Allowance is a short-term, non-taxable payment for people who lost income as a direct result of the fire. If you’re eligible, you can get it for up to 13 weeks.

To make a claim or to speak with a social worker, call 180 22 66 Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm, or visit servicesaustralia.gov.au/disaster for more information.

Bushfire waste brings forward expansion of central tip facility

The Bega District News reported that construction works have begun on a fourth landfill cell at the Central Waste Facility, with the delivery program brought forward by 12 months because of the need to dispose of some fire affected material in the existing cell.

The civil construction tender has been awarded to local firm RD Miller after council endorsed a fast-tracked process at its meeting on June 24. At the meeting council provided general manager Leanne Barnes delegated authority to complete the tender process and award the contract after council agreed to a short list of contractors.

Residents still without drinking water more than six months after bushfire emergency

The Bega District News also reported that a survey has found some residents are still without drinking water and accommodation support more than six months after this year’s bushfire emergency began.

Almost 2000 residents have registered for bushfire support, with 360 so far responding to an ongoing needs survey, involving Resilience NSW, Bega Valley Shire Council Council and Service NSW, designed to “respond to the most immediate and pressing unmet needs”.

“Through your responses on completed surveys, we are aware that people are still in need of drinking water, accommodation support, sanitation, mental wellbeing, rebuild info, property access and more,” head of council’s recovery project Chris Horsburgh said.

“Asking for help can be confronting for a community that prides itself on it’s ability to make good and find solutions, but it is natural and normal to need a hand in these exceptional circumstances.”

Environmental weeds management crucial to Eurobodalla’s bushfire recovery

About Regional reported that Eurobodalla Shire Council has received more than $1.8 million to bolster environmental recovery efforts following the Black Summer bushfires. The funding comes from a number of grants from the federal and NSW governments, WIRES, Landcare Australia and the Biodiversity Conservation Trust.

According to Eurobodalla Shire Council’s natural resource supervisor, Heidi Thomson, the most pressing issues are invasive weed control, improving native vegetation, soil and water quality, biodiversity and improved outcomes for wildlife.

The $1.8 million funding will help rehabilitation and restoration work throughout the 80.7 per cent of the Eurobodalla Shire which was burnt in the bushfires.

Ms Thomson said future environmental management requires significant resources.

“Environmental regeneration across the shire has been quite varied,” she said. “In a lot of cases, it depends on the intensity of the fire when it went through.

“Some areas are regenerating really well – better than we would have thought – whereas others are pretty slow to take off.

“The focus has been on high priority sediment and erosion control, but now it’s getting more strategic.”

Ms Thomson said one of the biggest issues was getting on top of weeds, which are regenerating as quickly as natural vegetation.

Wingham-based Wallaby Joe Rural Fire Brigade triples in size after Black Summer bushfires

The Wingham Chronicle reported that the  Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020 had one positive outcome for Rural Fire Service brigades across NSW – a surge of new recruits joining up.

The Wingham-based Wallaby Joe brigade was no exception. Following a single post on their Facebook page asking for interested potential volunteers, 61 people people turned up on the first open night.

From these 61 people 20 people registered to become members, taking the brigade from 10 to 30 volunteers.

The new recruits started basic firefighting training in February, however the coronavirus pandemic has stymied progress.

“It’s put a damper on things. We couldn’t train there for a while,” brigade captain, Kristian Guppy said.

“We’ve just got all these new recruits going through, and we were really pushing and getting through training, and all of a sudden it just goes bang, stop. What are we going to do? We can’t do anything. I think that might have shaken a few of them up.”

Fire training to facilitate increased traditional burning in State forests

The Camden Haven Courier reported that representatives from the Bunya, Coffs and Biripi Local Aboriginal Land Councils completed basic fire training with Forestry Corporation of NSW in Wauchope this week, paving the way for increased traditional burning in State forests.

Forestry Corporation’s Aboriginal Partnerships Team Leader, John Shipp said the training would enable more local Aboriginal communities to carry out hazard reduction burning using traditional low-intensity practices in State forests, in partnership with Forestry Corporation.

“Forestry Corporation has been working with local Aboriginal communities on the north and south coasts of NSW to carry out cultural burning as part of our regular hazard reduction burning program for several years now,” Mr Shipp said.

GIVIT up for Caroline: Heartfelt, tech-savvy helping hand for bushfire recovery

Narooma News reported that it’s Caroline Odgers’ mission to share the stories of bushfire victims and inspire people to donate.

Ms Odgers is the regional ACT and NSW manager for GIVIT – a virtual warehouse filled with essentials for those in need.

The former Carroll College student, now living in Canberra, has found her job sometimes overwhelming. Six months after the bushfires, she is still meeting people only just reaching out for assistance.

“Every story that pops up, your heart just sinks,” she said.

“Six months on, people are only just seeking help.” 

A man camping on his burned property near Nerrigundah only recently reached out to GIVIT.

“He said it was getting a bit cold and asked for a blanket; they then found out he had been bathing in the river since January,” Ms Odgers said.

The GIVIT team helped him write a wish list.

“We sourced him the basics he needed, things like solar for hot water and a battery inverter,” Ms Odgers said.

“As of next week he should be sorted.

“It’s such a privilege to work with these people who have gone through unimaginable grief.”

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