3 December 2021

Orroral Valley fire inquiry to likely focus on Army helicopter's operation and actions of its crew

| Albert McKnight
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Orroral Valley fire

A water-bombing helicopter heads into a flank of the Orroral Valley fire in 2020. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Draft terms of reference released for the Orroral Valley fire inquiry reveal it will likely explore the operation of an Army helicopter and the actions of its crew.

Earlier this year, ACT Chief Coroner Lorraine Walker announced she would hold an inquiry into the fire’s cause and origin, which covered a massive amount of the Territory during the 2019-2020 bushfire season.

A light on an Army helicopter may have sparked the fire after its crew landed in the Namadgi National Park on 27 January 2020. Its crew had been tasked with investigating landing zones in the park.

After the fire began, it took 45 minutes for emergency services to be notified of the fire’s location by Army personnel.

By the time it was extinguished, the fire had burned for one month and covered 78 per cent of Namadgi National Park and 22 per cent of the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

On Tuesday (30 November), counsel assisting Kylie Nomchong SC told the ACT Coroner’s Court that the draft terms of reference for the inquiry had been prepared.

These show the inquiry will likely explore the circumstances of the operation undertaken by the Australian Defence Force, ACT Emergency Services Agency and ACT Parks and Conservation Services on 27 January 2020.

It will also look at the arrangements between those organisations regarding roles and communications and the actions of personnel aboard the Army helicopter that same day.

Coroner Walker told the court that she called the inquiry because of the apparent lack of information on the fire.

Ms Nomchong said the inquiry would not extend to the Clear Range Fire, which burned on the southern side of the ACT, but she believed that fire may form part of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

The court heard the Defence Force, represented by Michael Fordham SC, wanted to view the brief of evidence before it was made publicly available to check for potentially sensitive information.

The court also heard NSW residents from Bumbalong, south of the ACT border, wanted to have input into the inquiry.

Coroner Walker said she would reserve her decision on whether the residents could provide input and made a non-publication order on the brief of evidence until further notice.

The inquiry will return to court for a mention on 19 January 2022. The tentative starting date for the five-day hearing is 11 July 2022.

Original Article published by Albert McKnight on Riotact.

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The original claim was that the crew needed the light on so that they could more clearly see their proposed landing site through the smoke.
When pictures were released that the crew took after lighting the fire it was fairly obvious that there was no smoke before they started the fire. I have heard that the lights and the light beam are so hot that at close range the light beam will melt tarmac.
Defence have started mayor bush fires in the past by using live ammunition during droughts and total fire bans.

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