NSW govt accepts all fire inquiry advice

Landowners across NSW will be obliged to conduct more hazard-reduction burns on their properties and take an active role in bushfire preparation after the NSW government accepted all 76 recommendations of an independent bushfire inquiry.

A trial will also be conducted of first-response aerial firefighting, which involves water bombers being deployed ahead of firefighters to reduce the intensity of blazes.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian in January established the inquiry amid an unprecedented bushfire season in which 25 people died, almost 2500 homes were razed, more than 5.5 million hectares were burned and billions of animals perished.

The inquiry leads, Professor Mary O’Kane and Dave Owens, handed the report to the NSW government in late July and it was published on Tuesday.

Ms Berejiklian’s government has agreed to support all 76 recommendations from the inquiry, including an enhanced role for landowners in the firefighting process.

Landowners in fire-prone areas of NSW will be required to do their own hazard-reduction burns, and the NSW RFS will be permitted to intervene if they fail to do so.

The report also recommends more hazard-reduction burns in closer proximity to endangered communities and the performance of hazard-reduction burns and water bombing at night.

Indigenous cultural burning techniques will also be examined in greater detail.

Firefighting authorities will also trial military-style water-bombing tactics and buy more medium-sized water bombing aircraft, while they have also been encouraged to update equipment, training and mental health support for firefighters.

Targeted training for fire behaviour analysts in local weather effects, the training of more meteorologists in bushfire behaviour and weather training were also advised. 

“The release of this report is timely – we know our job is not done in recovering and rebuilding in the aftermath of those horrific bushfires,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Tuesday.

“We think of those who experienced the trauma and pain every day, and those who are still in recovery mode, recovering from that horrific bushfire season.”

Ms Berejiklian also admitted climate change had played a major role in the summer’s fires, with authorities seeing things “they have never seen before in decades of firefighting”.

Among other recommendations are the establishment of a bushfire research facility in NSW and the creation of a bushfire-fighting technology fund.

The government has also been advised to commission research into the efficacy of cattle grazing on vegetation as a hazard-reduction technique and to implement a police on injured wildlife, including guidance for firefighters on handling animals.

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott told reporters the government had already tipped an additional $45 million into the state’s firefighting response for the upcoming season, while the Rural Fire Service NSW had purchased 120 new fire trucks.

He said he would enact further reforms ahead of this year’s fire season if necessary and had six weeks to determine the rollout of the 76 inquiry recommendations, with some requiring the consent of federal government and others already in place.

The government was open to purchasing more water-bombing aircraft.

“Aviation has come of age when it comes to firefighting,” Mr Elliott said.

“What we have seen in NSW is that we’ve embraced it – when we talk about military tactics, that’s all about making sure aviation assets can fly over a fireground quickly, early, with a maximum amount of retardant and water to drop.”

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