Vic firies need better systems: report

Fire crews battling the Wye River blaze were using an out-of-date method of tracking equipment, a report has found.


The report into the initial response to the 2015 Wye River-Jamieson Track fire, released on Thursday, recommended that fire agencies should review the way they recorded the allocation of resources.

The fire razed more than 100 homes along Victoria’s surf coast on Christmas Day, including 100 in Wye River and 16 in nearby Separation Creek.

It burned more than 2500 hectares, much of it thick forest in rugged Otway Ranges back country, before it was finally contained on January 21.

Authorities were criticised for undertaking a back-burn near the two townships just three days earlier, which was lit to control a fire in inaccessible terrain in the Otways.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley defended the back-burn decision at the time, saying the blaze could have been much worse without it.

The report found discrepancies between the Colac incident control centre records of equipment being used to fight the blaze, and logs kept by the commanders on the ground crew on the scene of the fire.

“This situation has the potential to impact both firefighter safety and the effective utilisation of available resources,” it said.

The Inspector-General for Emergency Management, Tony Pearce, also found the fire should have been classified a level-three, not two, category fire from the outset.

Fires are classified according to their complexity and the resources and incident control arrangements required to manage them.

A level-two fire is one that is unlikely to be contained by the first attack, and may become more complex, while a level-three fire is larger and more complex, and requires more resources from several agencies.

“(I do) not suggest that the outcome in this situation would have been any different. However, there may be implications for future such fires,” Mr Pearce said in his report.

The report was satisfied, however, with the way firefighters handled the fire, and praised the planning that meant no lives were lost and many homes were saved during the blaze.

Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett said on Thursday the fire was “down a gorge, there’s no tracks, there’s no roads, the canopy is enormously thick, the aircraft support can only do so much.”

She thanked the more than 1000 people who worked on the fire.

“This was a fire that was fought with chainsaws and with hands and sheer grit.”

The state government accepted all four recommendations in the report.

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