28 December 2019

"Severe danger" in ACT as calls for expanded ADF firefighting efforts grow

| David Murtagh
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There are growing calls for greater ADF involvement in the firefighting effort. Photo: Lake George RFS.

As the fire crisis continues and we head towards another heatwave across the region, calls for greater ADF involvement and access to international resources to put Australia on a bushfire “war footing” are growing.

Lightning strikes have been recorded in the Tinderries and the fire danger rating in the ACT has been increased to severe as stronger than expected winds pick up ahead of anticipated heatwave conditions early next week.

There are currently no fires burning in the ACT, but the ESA says that smoke from the NSW and Victorian fires is expected to thicken today as the wind changes this afternoon.

A total fire ban remains in place in the ACT and an Incident Management Team has been activated to monitor conditions throughout the day.

Near Moruya, a man will face court after lighting a fire without a permit in the Deua River Valley which quickly spread into the neighbouring state forest.

In a joint press release yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the ADF will increase its support to fire authorities, deploying additional specialist personnel to advise Incident Controllers at Fire Control Centres in NSW.

Defence Liaison Officers have been positioned at all 14 Incident Control Centres in the state with a list of equipment and support that can be provided, including bulldozers, bulk water carriers and troops.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the ADF is currently providing a range of support services to firefighters.

“All three services of the ADF continue to provide significant behind the scenes support to firefighting efforts across the nation, including aerial fire reconnaissance; helicopter search and rescue; logistical support such as ground transport; providing meals for exhausted firefighters; as well as basing, re-fuelling, water re-supply, loading fire retardant and air traffic management for firefighting aircraft,” Ms Reynolds said.

“This behind the scenes support from the ADF frees up more of our firefighters to perform their specialised roles fighting the fires.”

However, 2010 NSW Australian of the Year and Planet Ark co-founder Jon Dee says the time has come for the Australian Government to call on all possible resources including international specialist equipment, given the unprecedented scale of the fire crisis.

“I’d like to propose we go on a war footing against bushfires and climate change. We’ve got an amazing military, very well trained and very well resourced,” the environmentalist and social activist told ABC News.

“When do we get army fire engines? At what point do we get soldiers picking up hoses, similar to what’s happened in the UK when there have been national crises [there]?

“At some point, we need to provide backup for these volunteer firefighters,” Mr Dee said. “They already have trained firefighters in the army and they are very good at what they do, so why can’t we involve them?”

Mr Dee also questioned why no request has been made to the US Forestry Services for their specialist firefighting aircraft which can be deployed at 24-hour’s notice.

He also suggested that existing RAAF c130 Hercules transport planes based in Richmond could be converted to firefighting craft using US technology at a cost of around $4-6 million each.

“That seems incredibly cheap to turn them into a firefighting craft,” he said.

“There has not been enough action to support volunteer firefighters on the ground. It’s time to deal with this in a different way.”

But speaking at Queanbeyan this morning, Emergency Services Minister David Littleproud said the primary focus should be on locally-based firefighters who know the terrain and how local conditions operate. Defence Force assistance is best deployed on a complementary basis, he said.

“The ADF will be there, that’s a commitment from the Australian Government”, he said. “The NSW Government has operational management of these fires. You don’t want politicians with kneejerk reactions.”

Mr Littleproud said the next few days would be very challenging.

“If you are in the fire line you have to be prepared. You owe it to these men and women to be prepared and act on that plan immediately. I call on the public to back our firefighters. If they ask you to do something, just do it. They are putting their lives on the line for you.”

The Bureau of Meteorology is expecting strong winds and dry lightning across much of south-eastern Australia as temperatures steadily increase over the next few days.

The current peak of heat is hovering over South Australia causing severe to extreme conditions and that will extend further south and intensify throughout the weekend and into Monday.

The BOM expects conditions on Tuesday to be particularly dangerous as dry lightning and gusty winds associated with thunderstorms increase.

To stay up to date on bush fires in your area call the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737 or check the NSW RFS website. For road reports and updates visit Live Traffic NSW.

Use the Register.Find.Unite service to register your location, and find and reunite with family, friends and loved ones after an emergency.

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How can Emergency Services Minister, David Littleproud, say “You don’t want politicians with kneejerk reactions”? They were warned in June, then again in August, and the predicted fires have been burning since September. How could anything they do now be considered “kneejerk”? They’ve done nothing for months, and they are grudgingly doing as little as possible now.

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