19 July 2021

Regional hearings planned as NSW Coroner holds inquests into Black Summer fires

| Albert McKnight
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2019‑20 NSW bushfire season

The NSW State Coroner is conducting a series of coronial inquests and inquiries relating to the 2019‑20 NSW bushfire season. Photo: BVSC.

The 2019-2020 NSW bushfires took a horrific toll on people’s lives and the disasters will soon be examined in a series of coronial inquests and inquiries by the State Coroner.

The NSW Bushfire Inquiry found there were 11,774 fires across the state during the 2019-20 bushfire season which ran from July 2019 until March 2020.

The fires claimed the lives of 26 people and destroyed 2476 homes.

An information paper for the NSW Bushfires Coronial Inquiry says that in addition to these deaths, huge areas of the state were destroyed by fire.

“Large numbers of native wildlife were killed or injured, and their habitat destroyed,” it reads.

“Also, large numbers of stock and domestic pets were also lost during the fires posing both an emotional and economic loss to some families, farms and other businesses.”

Due to the scale of the fires a number of reviews have already taken place.

READ ALSO Fire claimed their town, now Mogo’s young women learn how to fight back

This review by the NSW State Coroner will focus on events particular to each death and fire rather than the large-scale themes covered in other investigations.

“This inquiry is seeking information about the experiences of people directly impacted by the bushfires,” Bega Valley Shire Mayor Councillor Russell Fitzpatrick said.

“While it can be traumatic for people to recall or recount their experiences, inquiries like this provide an opportunity for governments and agencies to learn from the past and ensure we are better prepared for the future.”

The NSW Coroner’s primary role at a coronial inquiry is to establish the cause and origin of a fire, but if the cause and origin is clear then a formal court hearing may not be necessary. About 91 fires have already been referred to the court.

The court will also be conducting an inquest into each death related to the fires.

The inquiry will begin with an opening address at the Coroners Court of NSW in Lidcombe, Sydney on 25 August.

READ ALSO: South Coast bikers the big winners in latest bushfire recovery grants

Public hearings will be conducted at various regional locations including:

  • Cooma Local Court on 6-17 September
  • Queanbeyan Local Court on 20 September–1 October

Further details about the dates and locations of other regional hearings will be published on this page once finalised.

Written submissions will also be accepted until 23 July.

People who are interested in the hearings, for example next of kin or those who have suffered property damage, can apply to the coroner to participate in a hearing.

Families will also be able to provide a statement about a loved one lost in the fires.

For more information about the inquiry or to make a submission, click here.

For 24-hour mental health support, call the Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 and ask to be referred to a Bushfire Recovery Clinician.

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