Ranger says he warned against back-burning during Coonabarabran bushfire disaster

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By Claire Aird, 12 Nov 2014.

The Rural Fire Service (RFS) made a “very bad decision” by back-burning during last year’s bushfires in north-west New South Wales, an inquest has heard.

Deputy state coroner Hugh Dillon is overseeing an inquiry into the “Black Sunday” bushfires, which destroyed 53 homes and burned 90 per cent of the Warrumbungle National Park after starting at the Wambelong Campground near Coonabarabran in January 2013.

The inquest heard several back-burning fires were lit the day after the blaze began, when a maximum temperature of 46 degrees Celsius and strong winds were predicted.

Senior National Parks Wildlife Service fire ranger Peter Brookhouse told the inquiry he raised concerns with the RFS before the back-burning was conducted.

He was “very alarmed” by the weather forecast, he said.

“I could see very quickly what the conditions were going to be, and with the burning going up slope it wasn’t going to be very pretty.

“There was no doubt in my mind that direct attack would’ve been the way to go.”

When asked why he did not take his concerns further, Mr Brookhouse said: “I felt at the time I had spoken to appropriate person.”

“It was very much in his court of action to pursue,” he said.

The inquiry is considering whether the damage could have been prevented.

Mr Brookhouse told the Glebe Coroner’s Court there had been very little hazard reduction work done in the Warrumbungle National Park before the blaze, and the Browns Creek area of the park had not been attended to in more than 40 years.

If a prescribed burn had have been conducted it would have had a “substantial effect” on the firefighting effort, he said.

“The fire would have become quiet and very manageable,” Mr Brookhouse said.

The hearing continues…..

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