RFS not told of plans for back-burning during Coonabarabran bushfires – inquiry hears

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By Claire Aird, 12 Nov 2014

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) was not told of plans for a controversial back-burning operation during last year’s bushfires near Coonabarabran in the state’s north-west, an inquiry 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.

The blaze was sparked at the park’s Wambelong campground on January 12, 2013.

That night, a decision was made to change the firefighting strategy from direct attack to back burning on the Sunday, despite weather forecasts of high temperatures and strong winds.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service’s overnight incident controller on duty, Wayne Dornbusch, confirmed no-one within the RFS was advised the back burning was to go ahead.

“There was plenty of time to get in touch with someone senior to tell them about the wholesale change of the plan?” counsel assisting the inquest Christina Stern asked.

“Yes, I accept that. I had my head down going flat knacker,” Mr Dornbush replied.

Mr Dornbusch said direct attack was not an option due to staff safety.

The inquiry also heard no advice was given to private property owners in the area about the potential threat of subsequent spot fires because Mr Dornbusch was confident the back-burning strategy would work.

It also heard no steps were taken to close a main road through the park to stop the public from entering the fire ground or protect camp areas or visitor facilities.

“In hindsight it’s probably something that I should done,” said Mr Dornbusch.

The inquiry has previously heard that a report on the 2013 Coonabarabran fires described the firefighting effort as the worst some of the brigades involved had seen.

The inquiry continues…..

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