TWM ACT BUSHFIRES,  Jan 2003

OPPORTUNITY WASTED
 506 HOUSES DESTROYED 
COST $350 MILLION
4 DEAD

Debus

COMMENT: It is unfortunate that protracted communications with Mr Debus, NSW Minister for the Environment and for Emergency Services, prevented TWM's services (after recent success with the Sydney fires) from being used in this situation.

Is the Minister accountable for this tragedy? It could easily have been avoided if he had acted promptly instead of allowing inertia and prejudice to affect his judgement.

Mr. Debus has been relieved of the portfolio of Minister for Emergency Services in Mr. Carr's new Cabinet of 2003. Not much consolation for the four people who died, or the five hundred plus owners who lost their homes.

UPDATE: Interesting to see that
Mr. Debus has become Minister for Home Affairs in the 2007 Rudd Labor Government. Incompetence is obviously not a barrier to political advancement.

FIRE UPDATES:
Check out the McLeod report on the Canberra bushfires.
(4 August, 2003)
Also the ACT Coroner's report(19 December, 2006)

Additional reports:
Stanhope admits 'systemic' fire failures 
(20 December, 2006)
Stanhope defiant on calls to quit  (20 December, 2006)
'Incompetence' left Canberra to burn  (20 December, 2006)

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EXERPTS FROM FIRE REPORTS

ACT firefighters 'overwhelmed'
The Australian January 19, 2003 
ACT firefighters had been simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of the fires which hit the national capital, ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has said. Mr Stanhope said 400 houses were feared totally destroyed in the fires and two people killed.
Canberra a 'war zone'
The Australian January 19, 2003
CANBERRA'S suburbs resembled a war zone last night as bushfires swept through residential streets, ACT Health Minister Simon Corbell has said. Mr Corbell is a volunteer firefighter and spent all of last week fighting fires in national parks south of the city before they broke through into the city limits. 
Tears and anger from fire victims
The Australian January 19, 2003
CANBERRA residents are returning to what was left of their homes after the worst fires in the city's history. Families stood outside their destroyed homes, looking through the burnt-out remains for anything that may have survived. Home after home in the streets of suburban Duffy and Chapman were laid waste by yesterday's fires.
Bush fires rage out of control in Canberra 
NZ Herald 19.01.2003 10.30am
CANBERRA - Bush fires are raging out of control in the Australian capital Canberra, killing at least one person and setting as many as 100 homes aflame. Officials said the entire city, home to 300,000 people, is at risk. 
The sprawling capital has been hit by drought for months, but the speed of the fire's spread took residents by surprise. In many areas, residents were preparing to face the flames alone, as firefighters struggled to keep up with the fire fronts.
Bushfires costs hit $150m
The Australian January 22, 2003
THE estimated cost of the Canberra bushfires has surged to $150 million, insurance companies said. The Insurance Disaster Response Organisation's national coordinator Chris Henri said 2000 individual claims had flooded into insurance companies from people affected by the devastating fires.
On Monday, insurers had estimated the total cost of the fires would be about $100 million. Mr Henri said the figure had changed largely because of a significant number of motor vehicle claims and a steady flow of home claims. The fires have now destroyed more than 450 homes.
Fire policies a failure, admits Carnell
The Australian January 22, 2003
ACT former chief minister Kate Carnell yesterday conceded her government had not done enough to introduce fire prevention measures in Canberra. However, she insisted the community attitudes of the time prevented her from putting in place tougher anti-fire measures. Ms Carnell said NSW authorities must shoulder some responsibility for the blazes, which spread into the ACT from areas "where there is no backburning done and no fire trails made". But NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service director general Brian Gilligan rejected criticism directed at his department, claiming 5000ha of land in the Snowy region had only recently undergone hazard reduction work.
Report warned of ACT fire bomb
The Australian January 23, 2003
A SCATHING eight-year-old bushfire report warned of a potential time bomb in Canberra's forest-lined suburbs unless dramatic steps were taken to reduce fire hazards. The 1994 report, The Fire Hazard Reduction Practices of the ACT Government, made 40 recommendations after identifying "significant problem areas" where "ill-prepared residences" abutted native and pine forests with "poor access and inadequate fuel-reduction zones". The report was clouded in controversy when completed in September 1994, with the then government refusing to accept its recommendations "because it didn't respond to the questions we had sought", said Mr Wood. 
Crews create barrier against fire
The Australian January 23, 2003
A HUGE back-burning operation is under way to protect Canberra's northern suburbs from disastrous weather conditions expected this weekend. With conditions calmer in the ACT, firefighters today started the back-burning operation that will stretch morethan 20km. The aim is to create a 100-metre-wide protective barrier in between two hastily-constructed graded fire breaks. Meanwhile, insurance companies are examining fire-damaged properties, with estimates the total bill will top $350 million.
Cash rejection hindered fire fight
The Australian January 23, 2003
THE federal Government's refusal to back a $16 million request for new firefighting equipment last August had contributed to the national bush fire crisis, the peak firefighting organisation said yesterday. The controversial remarks, from the Australasian Fire Authorities Council, came as a war of words continued between the federal Government and the states over forestry management.
Canberra returns to normal
The Australian January 27, 2003
CANBERRA has begun the slow process of returning to normal as the fire threat of the past week and a half recedes. ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said today he expected a state of emergency, put in place over a week ago, would be lifted tomorrow. Four people were killed and at least 530 houses destroyed as an inferno devastated parts of suburban Canberra. Mr Stanhope, along with fire and emergency services chiefs and hundreds of members of the community, farewelled 150 NSW Rural Fire Service personnel who joined their ACT colleagues in fighting the blazes gripping Canberra. To cheers and applause, the NSW firefighters left the ACT in a convoy of fire trucks to return to the respective home bases. A contingent of 40 firefighters from Queensland will also leave the ACT today.
 
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