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IFA says Fraser Island bushfire inquiry should question water bombing

The effectiveness and cost of relying on water-bombing aircraft in fighting bushfires has been questioned by the Institute of Foresters of Australia and Australian Forest Growers. IFA/AGF president Bob Gordon made the call in response to the Queensland Government’s announcement of inquiry in the recent Fraser Island bushfire. Source: Timberbiz

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has directed the state’s Inspector-General for Emergency Management, Alistair Dawson, to examine all aspects of the preparedness and response to the blaze.

The bushfire started burning in mid-October and is believed to have been sparked by an illegal campfire. It has now burned through at least 80,000 hectares, or 50%, of the island.

The IFA/AGF is hoping the K’gari (Fraser Island) Bushfire Review, will be a catalyst for a greater focus on bushfire prevention activities over the excess use of water bombing aircraft.

Mr Gordon urged the reviewers to weigh-up the effectiveness and cost of relying on water-bombing aircraft as a reactive measure against the need for conventional wildfire responses and enhanced year-round prevention activities.

“Worryingly, this Fraser Island fire illustrates a dramatic trend to a greater reliance on water bombing as the primary bushfire response,” Mr Gordon said.

“While waterbombers will always be important in fighting fires, more and bigger aircraft are not the answer.

“There’s an old saying: ‘Aircraft are for show, but if you want to put out a bushfire, dozers are the go’.

“To be effective, aircraft need trained forest firefighters on the ground to create containment lines and put out fires. Additional response funding should be directed towards early and better fire detection and on the ground response, including creating more access routes via roads and tracks, particularly in remote areas.”

Mr Gordon also called for the focus to shift from water-bombers and response to year-round land management and investment in bushfire activities and research to increase the landscape’s resilience against fire events.

“While urgent and adequate response is vital and necessary, there is much more to be gained by implementing a greater focus on year-round land management and investment in bushfire mitigation activities and research,” Mr Gordon said.

“The IFA/AFG wishes to offer the IGEM Inquiry its expertise and experience through the provision of a range of experts to assist with the review.

“It is hoped that this Inquiry will give careful consideration to the need for adequate preparedness including Hazard Reduction Burning and the value of Cultural burning practices.”

Bushfire hazard reduction measures including prescribed burning played an important part in year-round fire management.

Mr Gordon said that prescribed burning should not be seen as only hazard reduction, but also as maintenance of ecological processes, vegetation community health, habitat protection, and cultural burning practices.

“Year-round land management reduces wildfire intensity when they do occur, which is a good way to help biodiversity and avoid the widespread devastation we witnessed during the Fraser Island fires,” he said.

“To achieve this balance requires well-trained and locally knowledgeable land managers such as forest scientists and professional forest managers who possess the right education, tools, and know-how and interact with the land all year round.

“Indigenous Australians have held this knowledge for 60,000 years, and it’s important the value of Cultural burning practices is upheld and valued in modern day Australia.

“Broader mitigation measures should also include a properly maintained fire line network and increased community education.”