SUBMISSION TO THE AFAC REVIEW INTO THE 2018-19 TASMANIAN BUSHFIRES
We appreciate the opportunity to make a submission to this review and acknowledge our lack of expertise in firefighting issues but hope we can contribute to the discussion. As a Huon Valley community group our primary area of concern is on the fires that directly affected our community but some of our comments and questions may well be relevant to the bigger picture. We would like to acknowledge and thank the many members of the local community who contributed information that is included in this submission.
Timeliness and effectiveness of the fire response and management strategy
The first question that is being asked in our community is: “Why was a relatively small fire, in exceptionally dry bushland near Riveaux Road (less than 4 kilometers from the Tahune Airwalk) during a period of fairly benign weather, not extinguished before it became a widespread conflagration that destroyed forests, plantations, properties and put an entire community at risk without even mentioning the significant cost?”
We have been informed that this photograph was taken on the 16th January, the day after the dry lightning strikes, and that it shows the point of ignition of the fire that was thereafter named the “Riveaux Road Fire”. This appears to show a small fire front in fairly open terrain with little wind behind it.
From the TFS web site “Location Riveaux Road, Southwest –
20th of January: Attending resources: TFS resources arrived, 2 x LIGHT TANKER, 1 X MEDIUM TANKER – Size: 6.5 hectares
21st January: Attending resources: TFS resources arrived, 2 x LIGHT TANKER – Size: 38.6 hectares “
We recognise that this may not give an accurate description of all the resources being deployed during this period but would be very surprised if the areas affected are very inaccurate. The weather during the period between 16th and 20th was neither extremely hot nor windy and it is difficult to understand why this fire was not extinguished.
It appears that the fire started in a previously logged coupe which would have been tinder dry but should have been easily accessible for fire fighters.
It is incomprehensible that a relatively small fire close to an important tourist attraction and adjacent to and “upwind” of a vast forest and plantation reserve that was clearly identified as being exceptionally dry was not given the highest priority.
Unless there are significant factors that we are unaware of the only conclusion we can draw is that there was serious mismanagement by those responsible for fire control.
This satellite image indicates that “ground zero” was ~ 4 km from the Tahune Airwalk
After the 21st of January the fire grew exponentially and despite the significant firefighting resources deployed. Our community might well have been far more severely impacted had it not been for unseasonal rain and cooler weather.
Many rumours have been circulating but there appears to be a consensus that there was some kind of “dispute” between the fire agencies involved in tackling the fire at this early stage. The details around this vary but most relate to “jurisdictional” responsibilities or “land tenure” issues and refusal of access for bulldozers due to environmental concerns.
As TFS Chief Officer, Chris Arnol, has stated that “the classic strategy for remote area firefighting is the use of aircraft for initial attack: the aircraft hold the fire ‘so that we can get the boots on the ground'”. 
We recognise that aerial firefighting is extremely expensive and may be of limited value in difficult or extreme conditions. As noted above it can, however, be extremely effective when tackling embryonic fires and especially so in areas that are otherwise difficult of access.
It appears most likely that had the Riveaux Road fire been appropriately attacked from the air within 24 hours it could have been brought under control and extinguished.
Our community needs to have a clear and unequivocal explanation of exactly what happened during this critical period.
Who was responsible?
Who made what decisions, when and why?
And most importantly, we need an assurance that all and any factors that may have contributed to delay in an effective response have been be clearly identified, that recommendations are made to help prevent any repeat of this, and that these recommendations are implemented with immediate effect.
Another lightning strike fire on the 16th January
Community messaging and warnings
- The TFS and Sentinel websites provided valuable information during the emergency but much of the TFS information was generalised and did not pinpoint specific locations of concern and/or firefighting activity. This led to many people believing themselves to be in imminent danger when they were not. While it is understandable that those responsible for disseminating critical information will, and should, err on the side of caution it is not helpful if residents are kept in a heightened sense of danger over a long period. This may lead to complacency (“the boy who cried wolf syndrome”). It should be noted that later in the emergency period the information on the TFS site became more detailed and useful.
- In some of the more remote areas of the municipality radio reception is not good. ABC AM radio appears to be broadcast from the mainland over the weekend and so local fire information is not available. FM reception is very patchy and many stations do not broadcast emergency updates. NBN and mobile phone coverage is also patchy and can be interrupted completely when local transmitters are out of action due to the fire. What can be done to improve this?
- The “live-streamed” Huon Valley Council/TFS information sessions were very much appreciated by the community in general. Live-streaming was particularly valuable as it allowed the many residents who could not attend the events in person to get the information promptly. TFS should avail itself of better audio equipment for use in the future.
- The dangers of smoke pollution were not clearly explained during the early period of the emergency. Due to the prevailing weather conditions some areas had prolonged and extreme smoke levels with the more dangerous PM2.5 pollutants peaking as high as 1100µg/m3 with 24 hour averages above 350µg/m3. Often, just a few kilometers away the air was relatively clean. The EPA website provides useful and accurate, but extremely localised, information. Perhaps a supplementary method of indicating and communicating air quality could be used during bushfire emergencies. Might webcasting optimised dual polarimetric radar data provide the public with a more useful indication of the distribution of the smoke plume at any given time?
EPA “24 hour averaged” air quality data for Cygnet
- We have been informed that some firefighting personnel held lengthy “conversations” over the radio rather than using it solely for important communications and adhering to “on-air” protocols.
- One resident (whose home and outbuildings were destroyed) mentioned that, before returning to the site, he was not informed of any of the potential dangers (ie damaged asbestos sheeting, “widow maker” branches on nearby trees, damaged chemical containers etc.). He was personally aware that such dangers might be present but was nonetheless surprised not to be formally notified. Should this be standard protocol in such situations?
The use and effectiveness of aerial firefighting resources
It is recognised that early morning is the best time of day to conduct firefighting operations with both the wind and temperature being more favourable.
- We have received a number of reports that neither spotter aircraft nor TFS ground crew were out and about assessing the situation at first light.
With hotter and drier conditions forecast we can expect more frequent extreme conditions and it is quite probable that other states will be facing similar conditions at the same time: especially Victoria. This may mean that we cannot call on our neighbours for assistance and so should be more self-reliant.
With the “fire season” becoming longer in duration in both hemispheres we may be unable to rely on support from North American aerial firefighting resources. Time is often of the essence as we have seen when a recent fire just north of Hobart that could have become a major incident was promptly extinguished.
- We maintain that TFS should have (or be able to call upon) sufficient aerial firefighting to be able to combat potentially dangerous fires within hours of them being identified as such.
- Local volunteer firefighters have suggested that in some situations it would be valuable if helicopters were used to supply water and pumps to remote crews engaged in “mopping up” operations. Flexible “roll drums” or similar are available. 
- In addition to having better resources available locally we believe that there may be a strong case for the creation of an aerial firefighting capability as an integral part of the Australian Defence Force rather than relying on State agencies and commercial operators to provide these services? We request that the review panel consider recommending that the Federal Government commission an independent cost benefit analysis into how Australia’s aerial firefighting capabilities can best be provided into the future.
- There has been a suggestion that we should not be so dependent on commercial operators to provided aerial firefighting capability since they inevitably have a vested interest in prolonging the fire. Whether this has ever actually occurred is another matter.
Fire management in the native forest estate and forest plantations: now and into the future.
Many questions have been raised about how well Forestry (STT) and private forest plantations are managed in relation to fire and what can be done to better protect them and the nearby communities.
- Are fire trails and fire breaks adequate and, where they exist, are they maintained appropriately? Who monitors/enforces compliance?
- We have been told that many of the forestry fire trails are used extensively by private 4WD vehicles in all weathers and that this sometimes renders them impassable for larger (ie firefighting ) vehicles and that access is sometimes made impossible due to fallen trees and branches. Is track maintenance adequate? Is there a requirement that tree growth be kept well back from the sides of roads?
- It is recognised that eucalypt and pine plantations, by their very nature, are extremely fire prone due to their structure, the flammable nature of the trees themselves and the fact that they have a drying effect on their environment. Should it be a requirement that all plantations of a certain size (say 50ha +) have a perimeter planting of “fire retardant” trees? 
- Should all native forest and highly flammable plantations in proximity to habitations and urban areas be required to have a significant perimeter planting of “fire retardant” trees to slow the advance of wildfire and “catch” wind-borne embers?
The Ta Ann timber processing facility at Southwood has been the beneficiary of many millions of taxpayer dollars over the years and suffered considerable damage during the fire. Reports from TFS personnel indicate that the facility was very poorly prepared for such an event. There were/are significant stands of highly flammable vegetation adjacent to the buildings and log piles (at less than 40m). We have also been told that on site waste management was poor. Being located next to a river it seems surprising that extensive sprinkler systems were not in place.
- Should government funding be conditional on adequate (or even excellent) fire protection?
- Similar questions might be asked about installed fire protection at the Tahune Airwalk.
General firefighting resources
- Is Tasmania adequately equipped for fighting major wildfire emergencies in extreme fire weather conditions?
- Are we too dependent on interstate and international personnel and resources?
- Are available resources actually used efficiently? We have had numerous independent reports of operators of earth moving equipment being ready to start work at 7am and having to wait, inactive, until late morning for instructions to be relayed from “head office”. This not only means that valuable time is lost but adds considerably to the overall cost of the operation as these sub-contractors have to be paid for standby time.
- Are briefings held too late in the morning thereby missing the most valuable firefighting times?
- Many experienced fire fighters were apparently frustrated by a lack of timely instructions and felt that “head office” was sometimes out of touch with the situation on the ground. That by the time decisions were made the situation on the ground had evolved and the instructions received were no longer relevant.
- We have received a number of reports from volunteer firefighters of contractors and professional firefighters not attacking fires early but waiting until “it was worth their while” with “overtime considerations” sometimes being given as the reason.
- In the past there was a Huon Valley Fire Emergency Management Committee consisting of a representatives from all local volunteer brigades, Forestry Tasmania (as it was then), PWS, TFS, police and Huon Valley Council. The committee met quarterly to share knowledge and update plans for the season. Since this was disbanded we are informed that the coordination and cooperation between stakeholders has been less effective.
- It has been noted that the Federal Government is currently spending more than $17 billion on fighter jets while only contributing around $50m a year towards aerial firefighting capabilities. The RAAF has many and varied aircraft and highly skilled pilots. Existing aircraft that are under-deployed could be converted using existing or developing technology 
- Fires are easily lit. In hot windy conditions, a single person, suitably equipped, could create a firestorm without even putting themselves in danger. It should not be ignored that it could be used as a “terrorist weapon” and the Federal Government should be equipped to respond.
- While we had a fire emergency here in Tasmania the north of Queensland was experiencing severe flooding. In Townsville, the army was quickly mobilised and provided valuable logistical and other support. This kind of action not only provides excellent training in “real life” situations but relieves some of the pressure experienced by other services that are often entirely or partially provided by volunteers. Why was there no assistance from the ADF during our emergency situation? There appears to be no good reason why some ADF personnel should not be trained to the same level as our volunteer firefighters. Even if not trained as firefighters they could provide valuable assistance monitoring for spot fires , carting water, manning road blocks etc. Perhaps the meaning of “National Defence” should be re-examined?
- It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect volunteers to work for extended periods. Our volunteers were stretched to the limit and many business owners felt obliged to pay employees while they were away from work even if they could ill afford it. Some volunteers used “paid holiday” time but many are self-employed and simply had to absorb the lost income. When fighting long duration “campaign fires” it would seem reasonable to provide reasonable compensation to volunteers.
- We have had reliable reports of small ‘spot fires’ being identified by members of the public at first light who say that there was no response when they called them in. We recognise that local volunteer firefighters cannot work 24/7 and this kind of preventative patrolling might be a useful role for ADF personnel.
Public road closures
Many public roads were closed for extended periods which led to considerable inconvenience for many residents. The proximity of the fire to Franklin and Geeveston necessitated closure of the Huon Highway which meant that those in the far south found themselves having to make the decision to stay or leave long before there was any immediate danger of fire.
- Is there perhaps a greater role for on-water public transport which should be relatively safe during periods when the roads are closed? This might allow evacuated residents to visit and maintain their properties, tend stock etc and so reduce the stress experienced in the community.
- With many residents very publicly “away from home” during this period the perfect opportunity existed for opportunistic burglary and looting. Is there a need for a greater police presence with active patrols during evacuation periods? Again, perhaps ADF personnel could be providing assistance to relieve the work load on police in some areas.
This photograph dramatically illustrates the mosaic pattern of burning
- It is striking that the Southern Fire Protection Plan 2018 makes no mention whatsoever of Climate Change and that the Bushfire Risk Assessment Model (BRAM) “Ignition Potential” appears to be based on outdated data [lightning caused fires (1966 – 2007) and strike data from one fire season only (2006-07)]. In recent years the incidence of dry lightning strikes and resultant fires has been significantly higher than in the past. If this is the model currently in use it should be reassessed.
Average number of lightning fires per fire season for five-year periods between 1980/1981, 2014/2015 and 2016
Given the relevance of climate change to the whole issue of fire management and prevention, both now and into the future, we feel that the fire review panel should formally respond to the recent joint statement issued by 23 former fire and emergency services chiefs (including Mike Blanks and Tony Brown who have a combined 69 years of service here in Tasmania) 
Terms of Reference for Independent Review into 2018-19 bushfires
The review will consider the following matters:
- The causes, chronology and response of the 2018-19 bushfires in Tasmania on and following 28 December 2018.
- The effectiveness of community messaging and warnings.
- The timeliness and effectiveness of the fire response and management strategy, including accommodating the priorities of life, property, environmental and cultural values, and timber production and forest asset values by Tasmanian fire agencies.
- The impact and effectiveness of fuel management programs in the fire affected areas on the management and containment of the fires.
- The effectiveness of state, regional and local command, control and co-ordination arrangements, to include agency interoperability and the co-ordination of emergency management activities with government and non-government organisations.
- The effectiveness of the arrangements in place for requesting and managing interstate and international assistance and the significance of interstate and international assistance in managing the fires.
- The use and effectiveness of aviation firefighting resources, in particular, the suitability of aircraft types for the protection of environmental values, forest assets and the rural/urban interface in Tasmania.
- Any other matter that the Review team identifies in the course of its activities as warranting discussion.
- The Review team will provide a means for members of the public and other interested parties to make submissions to the Review and will have regard to any submissions received in compiling its report.
The Review will be chaired by Mal Cronstedt AFSM who will be joined on the Review team by;
- Guy Thomas – Director of Asset Services with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
- Paul Considine – Director of Capability and Assurance at Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council.
Public submissions will be called for on 6 April 2019 and there will be a four week consultation period closing on 3 May 2019. Members of the public will be able to lodge formal submissions or make an appointment to talk in person or on the phone to the Review team.
The final review is expected to be delivered to Government by July this year.
HVC Volunteer Service Awards 2019 are OPEN.
Do you know of someone that VOLUNTEERS and gives to our community? Please nominate them for a Volunteer Service Award. Selection Criteria and Application Form HERE: 2019 Selection Criteria 2019 Nomination Form fill Please note that the closing date is Wednesday 27 March 5pm. If you would like any further information please contact Lisa Plohl (Community Liaison Officer) on 6264 0343.
Since posting the article below* HVC has announced that there will a community information session about the sale of the Cygnet Medical Centre on Thursday 14 March 2019 at 2:00pm.
They have also provided this Q&A sheet: 190306 QAs-Cygnet-Medical-Centre
* Proposed sale of Cygnet Medical Centre
In the Mercury (01/3/2019) Huon Valley Council placed two advertisements regarding the Cygnet Medical Centre:
- One was for expressions of interest for the purchase of the Cygnet Medical Centre with transfer of the council’s contractual obligations to provide medical services at the location until 2032. The call for expressions of interest will close on April 2nd.
- The other advertisement was a notice of intention to sell public land (on which the Medical Centre was built).
Objections to the proposed sale, stating the grounds for the objection, may be made to the general manager of the Huon Valley Council no later than 22/03/19
- What community consultation was undertaken prior to making the decision to sell this community asset in September 2018?
Council is holding the Cygnet community information session on the 28th March “to allow members of the community to have their say and to let council know what is important to them” (Mayor Enders).
The closing date for submissions/objections to the sale of the public land is six days before the community information session in Cygnet.
- Why was the process for the sale of the land initiated by HVC before the Cygnet Community Information Session?
In September 2018 (with Adriana Taylor as Commissioner) HVC stated that, “it is highly desirable for Council to discharge the risk and responsibility of the medical centre through a transfer of obligations under the Funding Agreement”*.
If sold, the new owner would take on this contractual obligation and the sale price would be adjusted in their favour (in consideration of this obligation). Once the obligation was discharged this would result in a significant capital gain for the purchaser.
- Should HVC be transferring this “risk and responsibility” to a private company which may not be able to fulfil its obligations?
- What would happen, for example, if the new owner went bankrupt and could not find a purchaser for the property who can provide medical services?
If leased until 2032 HVC would then be in a position to sell the Medical Centre at full market value (if deemed appropriate at the time). The income derived should not only cover all maintenance and costs but also cover the cost of any loans HVC might require in the interim to “compensate” for the sale price of the Medical Centre.
* HVC Agenda, 26 September 2018 (page 28): “The development of the medical centre was an initiative of Council to provide adequate medical services to the community of Cygnet utilising Commonwealth funding under the Hospital and Health Fund programme. The cost and risk for Council to operate the medical centre has been reduced with the involvement of Huon Valley Health Centre Pty Ltd in operating the centre. However, the risk and responsibility of Council will remain until 2032 whilst the Funding Agreement is in operation and applies to Council.
It is highly desirable for Council to discharge the risk and responsibility of the medical centre through a transfer of obligations under the Funding Agreement. As there is currently an operator at the location providing services to the satisfaction of the community, and they have shown a willingness and ability to take over the Funding Agreement obligations, it would be ideal to arrange a transfer of obligations whilst it is currently viable.”
Open letter from HVRRA to Premier Will Hodgman:
20th February 2019
The Honourable Will Hodgman
The Huon Valley Residents & Ratepayers Association (Inc) calls on you to establish a “Public Inquiry into the 2019 Tasmanian Bushfires”.
As you know these fires could have become a major disaster with even more significant loss of property, and perhaps even lives, had the weather not been kind to us.
We ‘dodged a bullet’ this time but we must not become complacent. The chances are high that there are more bullets to come: if not this year then not so far down the track.
The economic and environmental damage has been significant and recovery will not be overnight. The community is shaken but a Public Inquiry that is seen to be inclusive, transparent and comprehensive will help build confidence and resilience.
Every major fire event is different and what works well (or not so well) for one may not be the same for another. We must take every opportunity to learn what strategies are most appropriate in any given situation.
First and foremost a Public Inquiry is a learning opportunity. The 2013 and 2016 reports provide valuable foundations on which to build our knowledge and community confidence.
I know you have stated that, ‘all major fire incidents are reviewed, with input from experts, once the fires are safely resolved’ but I respectfully suggest that this does not mean very much unless it is accompanied by unambiguous terms of reference.
I am copying this call for a Public Inquiry to your colleagues in State Parliament, all Tasmanian Federal parliamentarians and Huon Valley Councillors.
President, Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association (Inc)
SUGGESTED TERMS OF REFERENCE
Many thanks to Luke Tscharke for allowing us to publish these images.
HVC Election outcome:
The Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association congratulates all the newly elected Huon Valley Councillors and most particularly our new Mayor, Bec Enders and Deputy Mayor, Sally Doyle. We feel confident that they will lead council effectively using their combined skills and knowledge of the local community. We now have a diverse council with a representation of ages, backgrounds and genders from all around the municipality.
This, more accurately than ever before, reflects the makeup of our community.
It will be good to have nine heads around the table exchanging views and contributing their varied knowledge and experience. Commissioner Taylor did excellent work in getting council back on track after its sacking but she is just one person with her own perspective and experience to draw on when decision making. Like all of us she has her strengths and weaknesses and while benevolent dictatorships have a lot to be said for them in the short term they are no substitute for democratically elected governments: as I’m sure she would agree.
We also to congratulate all the candidates who put their hands up but weren’t successful. Each candidate has something to offer the community and we hope that they will continue to participate and contribute to keeping this part of the world the very special place that it is while ensuring that future generations also have the opportunity to enjoy the same privileges that we sometimes take for granted.
Finally, we congratulate us the voters. We were confronted with an unprecedented 27 candidates to choose from and managed to elect a balanced, representative council that has every chance of being able to work together cooperatively to do the very best they can for the community. You can’t please all the people all the time and there will be times when they make decisions that, as individuals, we may not be happy with.
The Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association supports good governance and we will do whatever we can to assist the new council in establishing and maintaining standards that become a model for all other councils.
Pat Synge – Nov 2018
Who to vote for?
Confused by the number of candidates?
Want to know more about them?
All candidates have been invited to write a statement and they are posted as we receive them
your vote is your vote & every vote counts
As you probably know Tasmania has no laws requiring candidates to disclose any donations received. Candidates can receive any amount, from anyone, and spend as much as they like on self-promotion prior to the declared election campaign period and up to $10K during.
HVRRA maintains that this is unhealthy for democracy
“Transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of good governance”
We have invited all candidates to disclose donations they have accepted.
They are posted
PMAT Candidate Survey
In what is likely to be the biggest survey of candidates in the local government elections, the Planning Matters Alliance Tasmania (PMAT) has today revealed strong candidate sentiment for local government planning controls that protect local character, sunlight and privacy for our homes and facilitate public involvement in planning decisions in national parks and reserves.
PMAT sought to survey all 481 candidates in the council elections, reaching 407 candidates, 107 of whom completed and returned their responses to questions. It asked the following three questions and the individual responses to these questions are now available on PMAT’s website here. The results table is presented by Council and then by candidate in alphabetical order.
1. Do you believe that Councils should have greater capacity to protect local character and amenity and places important to local communities?
2. Do you believe that planning rules should protect a neighbour’s right to sunshine and privacy in their own home and garden?
3. Do you believe that major tourist developments proposed for national parks (and other reserves) should be discretionary i.e. the development proposal is released for public comment and the council can either approve or refuse it?