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LETTER: Avoidable tragedy

SIR, – The appalling loss of life and property in East Gippsland is made even more tragic because it was largely avoidable.  

The fires that caused the destruction had burned for weeks unchecked before becoming a threat.  

In a virtual repeat of the 2003 Canberra fires, a lack of effective suppression work during cooler conditions resulted in uncontrollable fires when the weather deteriorated. 

Whether leaving these fires uncontrolled was a result of government policy or a serious lack of judgment on the part of senior management in Victoria’s fire services is an issue that needs a public inquiry. That inquiry also needs to ask why our fire agencies are prepared to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars of retardant on large fires – often with little effect – but are unwilling to spend a few thousand on ground applied retardant that would have effectively contained those fires with initial attack.  

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This unwillingness to equip crews with this very effective technology is hampering their ability to contain fires quickly and ultimately costing lives and property. Another question to be asked is the level of protection work done around the communities impacted by these fires.  

Most affected communities had days, even weeks, to prepare for their inevitable arrival but it appears little if anything was done. 

Ground applied retardant can create strategic breaks very quickly. A kilometre of break can be established in as little as five minutes. Homes and other assets can also be quickly fire proofed with retardant.   

The Victorian Government ‘leave early’ policy appears to have shifted the focus from protecting communities and supporting people to stay and defend their homes to evacuate and let them burn.  While this might reduce the risk to lives, it results in significant property losses and people might not be able to obtain insurance when they rebuild. If we are to avoid a repeat of these fires we must adopt more effective methods of initial attack and provide communities with more effective fire protection.

Daryl Scherger, Ararat

The entire January 8, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!