FIRE SEASON: Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford at the Mackay fire station.
FIRE SEASON: Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford at the Mackay fire station. Maranatha Jireh Corpuz

REVIEW BREAKDOWN: Unprecedented fires 'the new normal'

LAST YEAR'S fires could be the 'new normal' as, for the first time, Mackay's wet tropics are being classified as prime bushfire territory.

"Queensland is now a bushfire state," Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said at the Mackay Fire Station today.

This was his major conclusion that he drew from the independent Inspector-General Emergency Management's 2018 Queensland Bushfires Review released this week.

Last year, on November 16 the first fires sparked to life in Eungella. Within 12 days there were 165 active bushfires across the state.

The scale and severity of the fires were beyond what Queensland had ever seen before, Mr Crawford said.

 

The Ministry for Fire and Emergency Services, Craig Crawford at the Queensland Fire Department Emergency Services station in Mackay.
The Ministry for Fire and Emergency Services, Craig Crawford at the Queensland Fire Department Emergency Services station in Mackay. Maranatha Jireh Corpuz

He said he was "gobsmacked" to see the lush rainforests of Eungella burn.

"It's like Melbourne or Sydney being hit with a category 5 cyclone," he said.

IGEM acting commissioner Mike Shapland warned the severity of the "out-of-scale" fires would become "the new normal"

"Out of scale events are the new normal ... climate variability is now a reality," Mr Shapland said.

Mr Crawford said for the next decade all fire seasons would be compared to the horror summer of last year.

From now on, Mr Crawford said, Mackay would be considered bushfire territory.

He said moving forward the department would consider if additional fire fighting resources were necessary for the region.

With fires covering eight local government areas, Mr Crawford said full artillery of the state's emergency services - as well as 1200 interstate fire fighters and an "armada" of aerial water bombers - had been deployed.

But, he admitted not all the fires received all the resources they needed.

Speaking about the Bloomsbury fire, Mr Crawford said: "If it had been the only fire in the state we would have send an armada of resources".

"Our resources were very stretched," he said.

 

The Queensland Deputy Commissioner, Mike Wessing at the Queensland Fire Department Emergency Services station in Mackay.
The Queensland Deputy Commissioner, Mike Wessing at the Queensland Fire Department Emergency Services station in Mackay. Maranatha Jireh Corpuz

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services acting commissioner Mike Wassing said this year's fire season was "effectively on our doorstep".

He said the region continued to carry high fuel loads, which could involved an increased fire risk.

He said the Rural Fire Service was ramping up this year's operation cool burn.

In the wake of the report, Mr Crawford said the next steps were to react to the recommendations and get in front of the next major fire season.

Major changes after the fire report

Good Neighbour Policies: Mr Crawford defended the fire prevention tactics used on state and national lands. Last year, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service burnt 900,000 hectares, a third above its yearly average, he said.

But he admitted the report had highlighted tensions between landholders and their government neighbours.

"The government wants to see the relationship between parks and landowners improve," Mr Crawford said.

To create overarching hazard reduction programs he called for more "cross-fence conversations" between all landholders.

He said a good neighbours policy was essential for future fire seasons.

Vegetation management: The report highlighted considerable confusion surrounding landowner's rights to clear vegetation.

In response to the report's recommendations Mr Crawford announced QFES officers would be embedded in the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy 'Veg Hub' program.

Currently farmers can phone 13 VEG (135 834) to gain advice about land clearing.

Mr Crawford said the hub with the additional QFES staff would become a "one-stop shop" for all land clearing and burning advice.

State and National Parks: Department of Environment and Science has been allocated funding for extra staff.

Mr Crawford said it would be a decision for the DES if additional staff were to be placed in Mackay.

Burning Permits: Mr Crawford said QFES would review the permissions around hazard reduction burning to see if the process could be made easier.

Fire Behaviour Specialists: QFES Acting Commissioner Michael Wassing said 26 additional fire behaviour specialists would be hired.

Mr Wassing said the staff would be able to assess weather, fuel, territory and other factors to determine each season's likely fire behaviour.

He said the additional staff would "effectively double" the state's current fire behaviour specialist workforce.

He was unable to confirm if any additional fire behaviour specialists would be embedded in Mackay, but said the region already had "some of the best of the best" fire analysts.

My Resilient Community: Local engagement sessions will be held in Mackay, and the other seven local government areas affected by the fires.

Council Response: Mackay Regional Council mayor Greg Williamson said the report had highlighted three major areas of reform for the council's local disaster management plan.

While he applauded the work of everyone who helped contain the fires, he said "can we do better? absolutely".

He said there was a need for greater collaboration between all lead agencies, and a greater need for accurate and timely information.

Finally he said the council would look at how to quickly adapt to the "unprecedented" disaster conditions.

"We need to adapt a lot faster," he said.

Cr Williamson said the council had prepared an internal report with 48 recommendations to improve reaction to any future bushfire in its Local Disaster Management Plan.

He said the plan would require "a lot of tweaking" in the wake of the report.

The extent of the council changes would only be revealed when the annual Local Disaster Management Plan is released.

Alert Communication: Acting Commissioner Michael Wassing said a national review surrounding emergency messaging was under way. He said the review would standardise emergency warnings to provide consistency across states.

He said the review would provide a "refinement of current messaging".

Cr Williamson said during the peak of the disaster, the emergency messaging system had often confused residents.

He said some of the messages did not clearly communicate where the fires were and what steps residents should take to protect themselves.

Mr Wassing said local engagement teams informed the alerts. But Cr Williamson said greater local engagement was needed in the emergency alerts system.

Mr Crawford said there was a need for accurate, locally-informed alerts, saying "we had to make sure our messaging was accurate".

Disaster Prioritisation: Mr Crawford said bushfires were now ranked fourth in terms of the disaster priority ranking.

He said the government would review where bushfires would sit on the state's disaster priority list, and added local councils, like Mackay, should also review their disaster priorities.

But he added improved procedures and policies were more important than the disaster rankings.



WIN: Tickets to the Vodaphone Gold Coast 600

WIN: Tickets to the Vodaphone Gold Coast 600

It's time to party in paradise. Will you be there?

Coffs Coast home cook realises her dream of writing a book

premium_icon Coffs Coast home cook realises her dream of writing a book

SANDY Luhrs said she first fell in love with cooking as child.