Fire fury

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

A farm worker has been left severely injured and farm buildings razed after Scott River families say they were left in the dark about an approaching inferno.

Scott River farmers claim woefully inadequate fire information from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) during a blaze that has burnt through nearly 50,000 hectares was lucky not to cost lives.

Two weeks ago the fire front was heading for dairy, beef and horticulture properties in Scott River East.

Dairy sharefarmers Stewart and Alison Scott knew the fire was nearby and had a fire plan in place but said they were let down by bungled fire communication that continued to claim the flames were kilometres away.

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The day of the fire, November 24, Ms Scott said she continually checked the DEC and Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) websites as well as telephoning the local shire but was repeatedly informed there was no danger.

"I'd also phoned the Shire of Nannup and confirmed they had our emergency details … if something did change and we needed to be advised," Ms Scott said.

"It wasn't until early in the afternoon that I got calls from neighbours to advise the wind had changed and the fire was heading in our direction.

"I phoned the shire and they said no panic, the fire was still a long way away."

By the time Ms Scott could contact a local fire officer at 2pm she was told it was too late to evacuate and to take shelter on the farm.

Amid the thick smoke enveloping the property a farm worker on a quad bike, rushing to check on his partner, collided with another farm vehicle, leaving the 25-year-old with two broken legs, two broken arms and skull fractures.

The Scotts and farm workers were able to get the man to shelter under an irrigation pivot where they waited for a helicopter to airlift the seriously injured man to Perth.

Ultimately, Ms Scott said the family and their workers had just 15 minutes to spare before flames tore through two sheds, machinery and vehicles.

But even as flames licked the veranda posts of the Scotts' house, DEC bushfire advice at the time claimed there was "no threat to lives or homes" and "no immediate danger".

"If we'd been given even 15 minutes more notice it could have been prevented," Ms Scott said.

"Even if FESA or DEC had told us the fire was coming our way and it was travelling fast … if they'd told us at that time then we could have done something but as it was the fire was pretty much on us before we realised."

The Scotts aren't the only local farming family to have grave concerns about how the DEC handled communication to those in the fire's path during that week. Fire came within 3km of Ross Woodhouse's Scott River East dairy property.

He said not only was there a lack of information, what was coming through was inaccurate.

"The only people that could give us reliable information were other farmers whose properties the fire was on," he said.

"The Landgate website was about four hours behind and the radio reports stayed the same for about eight hours.

"On the radio it said it had jumped Milyeannup Coast Road, which is basically into the back of our property.

"We thought this was it - we've got to get ready to fight.

"The next information I got was a landowner who rang me three hours later to tell me it hadn't jumped the road, there was no danger and it was almost contained."

Mr Woodhouse said he was not looking to blame anyone for the prescribed burn getting out of control but was disappointed at the quality of fire information he received.

"What you need is information that it's travelling in this direction, at this speed and this is the size of the fire face," he said.

"Then you can make really informed decisions as a land owner - whether you're going to vacate or stay and protect your animals."

Nearby beef producer Barbara Dunnet is also querying the way in which DEC handled the situation.

The Dunnets lost about 6km of fencing but Ms Dunnet said in an area where there was limited mobile coverage it was lucky things didn't turn out worse.

"Some of the information that's been put out, for days it's been wrong - the wrong roads and that sort of thing," she said.

"I think there are a couple of key things and one of those is communication and probably a lack of trained DEC firefighters and machinery.

"There were three fires going at the time and they had to make choices, (DEC) chose where the most people were, in Margaret River.

"The on-ground work isn't happening and they're having to allocate resources sparingly."

DEC declined to comment but a spokesman claimed some residents were contacted by DEC during the blaze.

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