Waroona and Yarloop bushfires report prompts warning from local residents


Kelmscott resident Max Margetts is concerned at the current approach to manage bushland fuel loads.
Kelmscott resident Max Margetts is concerned at the current approach to manage bushland fuel loads.

THE State Government has been urged to implement the recommendations of the Ferguson report into the Waroona and Yarloop bushfires to avoid “a growing toll of devastated communities” through the “high risk” Perth Hills.

The warnings came in the same week that the State Government re-opened Yarloop, seven months after the bushfire destroyed 181 buildings and killed two people.

A spokesperson for Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said the State Government would be providing a response to the Ferguson Inquiry at the end of September.

“That was the timetable announced when the report was handed down,” he said.

Two long-term residents of the Kelmscott Hills and Roleystone are concerned not enough has been done to change the management of bushland fuels on the peri-urban fringe, or the space around urban areas merging into the rural landscape.

Kelmscott resident Max Margetts said he strongly supported the broad thrust and detail of the recommendations contained in the Waroona Fire Inquiry Report prepared by Euan Ferguson.

“If we do not act to make substantial changes to our approach to managing bushland fuels outside of inner-city and suburban Perth we can expect to see a growing toll of devastated communities and landscapes throughout the high risk Perth Hills and much of the South-West of this State,” Mr Margetts said.

“Given the sorry record and impact of peri-urban and rural bushfires over the last 10 years it is obvious that further tweaking of a failing, city-centric approach to bushfire management and an unsustainable expansion of emergency response and rebuilding would be futile.”

Roleystone resident Peter Stewart has lived in the same valley for the past 40 years.

“Through a lack of attention from all land managers over the past 30 years the fuel loads in the district have increased some two to three fold,” he said.

“The potential for a Yarloop type fire up here and in any one of the dozens of settlements along the Perth Hills, from Gidgegannup to Waroona, remains extreme.

“We were very lucky in 2005 where a fire raged in the hills between Canning Dam and Mundaring Dam threatening Carmel, Pickering Brook, Karragullen and Roleystone.”

There were two inquiries in Parliament regarding the “States Preparedness for the forthcoming Bushfire Season”.

“There were assurances given but no action taken,” Mr Stewart said.

“We were not so lucky in 2011 when some 70 odd homes and structures, including a major bridge, were destroyed in the Kelmscott Roleystone fires.”

Former Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty was charged by the Government to investigate the causes and make recommendations.

“The Government adopted all Keelty Recommendations, establishing a Bushfire Implementation Group within the Department of Premier and Cabinet in 2011 to ensure that the Keelty recommendations were put into effect,” he said.

“Not much has happened since.”

Mr Stewart said he believed had the deficits identified by Keelty been attended to, the Yarloop fire may never have occurred and the upwind damage would have been greatly mitigated.

“It’s simple, to borrow a line from a US President Bill Clinton, it’s the fuel stupid,” he said.

Mr Margetts backed a call by Mr Ferguson to allocate more funds from the Emergency Services Levy towards disaster prevention for effective fuel reduction, hazard separation and landscape adaptation.

“Within funding limitations the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPW) is committed to better managing fuel loads in the broader landscape, but for reasons beyond their control they often fall well short of completing their targeted fuel reduction and biodiversity burning program,” he said.

“DPW mapping shows that the perimeter of Roleystone is defined by a cordon of semi-rural properties with remnant bushland that in many cases may not have been burnt for over 70 years.”

He said much of the township had little or no effective hazard separation, let alone a minimum 100 metre wide strategic fire break

“Experts tell us that this malaise in hazard management is replicated up and down the Perth Hills,” he said.

“It is eerily similar to the situation that facilitated the rapid destruction of Yarloop in January this year.”

Max Margetts August 10, 2016 statement responding to the Waroona Bushfire Inquiry Report

As a long-term resident of the Kelmscott Hills with extensive land use planning experience I strongly support the broad thrust and detail of the Recommendations contained in the Waroona Fire Inquiry Report prepared by Euan Ferguson.

If we do not act to make substantial changes to our approach to managing bushland fuels outside of inner-city and suburban Perth we can expect to see a growing toll of devastated communities and landscapes throughout the high risk Perth Hills and much of the South West of this State.

Given the sorry record and impact of peri-urban and rural bushfires over the last 10 years it is obvious that further tweaking of a failing, city-centric approach to bushfire management and an unsustainable expansion of emergency response and rebuilding would be futile.

Consistent with numerous bushfire Inquiries over the years, Euan Ferguson has set out a sound case for investing a much greater proportion of available Emergency Services Levy funds and resources in disaster prevention through effective fuel reduction, hazard separation and landscape adaptation.

As Mr Ferguson has acknowledged, we have much to learn from the way our Indigenous predecessors cleverly used a patchwork of cool burning across the continent for thousands of years to actively manage the composition and character of a more open and less threatening landscape.

Within funding limitations the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPW) is committed to better managing fuel loads in the broader landscape.

But for reasons beyond their control they often fall well short of completing their targeted fuel reduction and biodiversity burning program.

They also have great difficulty burning close to settlements where they encounter very high fuel loads on subdivided bushland with an array of tenures.

DPW mapping shows that the perimeter of Roleystone is defined by a cordon of semi-rural properties with remnant bushland that in many cases may not have been burnt for over 70 years.

Much of the township has little or no effective hazard separation let alone a minimum 100m-wide strategic firebreak that would accord with the findings of contemporary bushfire research.

Experts tell us that this malaise in hazard management is replicated up and down the Perth Hills.

It is eerily similar to the situation that facilitated the rapid destruction of Yarloop in January this year.

So the government needs to act on the recommendations of the Ferguson Report.

Both Mick Keelty in 2011 and Euan Ferguson in 2016 argued that this should be a shared responsibility and that more concerted action is required to reign in fuel loads within a framework of published and accountable Bushfire Risk Management Plans.

Peter Stewart August 11, 2016 statement responding to the Waroona Bushfire Inquiry Report

I have lived in the same valley in Roleystone for the past 40 years.

Through a lack of attention from all land managers over the past 30 years the fuel loads in the district have increased some two to three fold, the potential for a Yarloop type fire up here and in any one of the dozens of settlements along the Perth Hills, from Gidgegannup to Waroona, remains extreme.

We were very lucky in 2005 where a fire raged in the hills between Canning Dam and Mundaring Dam threatening Carmel, Pickering Brook, Karragullen and Roleystone.

There were two inquiries in Parliament regarding the “States Preparedness for the forthcoming Bushfire Season”; assurances given but no action taken.

We were not so lucky in 2011 when some 70 odd homes and structures, including a major bridge, were destroyed in the Kelmscott Roleystone fires.

Former Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty was charged by the Government to investigate the causes and make recommendations.

The Government adopted all Keelty Recommendations, establishing a Bushfire Implementation Group within the DPC in 2011 to ensure that the Keelty recommendations were put into effect. Not much has happened since!

The massive fuel loads in and around Roleystone and other hills settlements remained and in December 2014 some concerned locals met on site with State Emergency Management Committee and the Office of Bushfire Risk Managment to urge progress on the Keelty Report Recommendations, particularly those relating to bushfire risk management planning and fuel loads.

Some assurances were provided but little or no action ensued. To illustrate the point I provided a paper on August 6, 2015 to SEMC, OBRM, DFES, Dept. Planning, other Departments and their Ministers titled “Bridging the Gap -Decades of Disconnect”..

I contend, as Ferguson has indicated, that were the deficits identified by Keelty attended to; the Yarloop fire may never have occurred and the upwind damage greatly mitigated. It’s simple, to borrow a line from a US President Bill Clinton – it’s the fuel stupid.