Bushfire warning as fuel load builds

Phoebe WearneThe West Australian

Unseasonably wet conditions have boosted fuel loads and hindered prescribed burning efforts, prompting warnings from Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis that WA is facing a particularly difficult fire season this summer.

Mr Francis said the State Government was doing all it could to prepare for the southern bushfire season, which officially starts on November 1, but shifted some of the responsibility for protecting property and lives on to homeowners.

Launching Bushfire Action Week, he said those living in bushfire-prone areas needed to accept they had "shared responsibility" for their homes.

He said the disastrous fires in NSW were a timely reminder of the "very real threat" of bushfire.

"It is a lottery of life dealt out by Mother Nature . . . but what I do know is it has been raining in Perth for months now," Mr Francis said. "It has obviously hindered fuel reduction burning efforts and it has encouraged an awful lot of undergrowth, so all indications tell you it is a dangerous fire season coming.

"There is no escaping from the fact that there are significant risks coming this year. That is why we are doing everything that we can."

He said only a "limited amount" of prescribed burning had been done this year because of the rain, meaning any fire had the potential to be "intense and dangerous". But he said burning that had been done had been "highly targeted".

He said WA's firefighting fleet and crews were better prepared this year than ever before, with significant resources pumped into the aerial firefighting fleet, the updating of vehicles and crew protection.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services deputy commissioner Steve Fewster said surveys had revealed some properties, particularly holiday homes, were underprepared for the upcoming season.

Shadow emergency services minister Margaret Quirk said the Government had failed to do basic preparations in the lead-up to the fire season and had not delivered on a number of election commitments in time for the season.

Ms Quirk said the Department of Parks and Wildlife had failed to meet its prescribed burning targets for several years now and this year it had reached only an eighth of its target, meaning fuel loads were building up.

"While the Government has committed to fitting those crew protections, that is largely not done by this year and while there are tenders let, there are not even safety blankets with fire brigades at this stage," Ms Quirk said.

"It is simply not good enough that of four fire protections they committed to in the State election, none have been fitted yet. We are very concerned. Scientists tell us our fire season might be a little later this year and it is when that fuel load dries out or cures that there will be a real potential problem."

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