Battin Offends Professional Firefighters

Has Battin made another error and again offended Professional Firefighters in relation to the Bunyip State Forrest Fire and he statement that “how many career firefighters were on the firefighting ground on 7 February for the first 5½ hours of Black Saturday. I can tell the house that it was zero,” 

The Bunyip fire – 2009- The Facts

Source document : Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Final Report, Chapter 4 in Volume I of the Commission’s final report.

Background

The Bunyip State Park is located 95 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, and is 16,600 hectares in size.

Between 2 and 4 February 2009, 17 fires were reported in the park. Most were caused by lightning activity and contained quickly. Despite being initially contained, the Bunyip Ridge Track fire broke control lines on 5 February. Fire crews established more control lines and remained watchful until the late evening of 6 February. The fire continued to burn within the park.  

Between 3.00 and 4.00 am on 7 February north-westerly wind gusts resulted in substantial spotting to the east. Fire behaviour became more erratic, and flame heights reached 5–10 metres. For safety reasons, firefighters were withdrawn, and by about 3.30 am the fire had crossed the control line to the east.

The fire moderated during the morning and ground crews were deployed back to the fire ground at about 11.00 am. Throughout the morning water-bombing aircraft made drops on the blaze, helping to limit its impact and progression towards private properties.

The weather deteriorated further by noon and winds were recorded at 30–40 kilometres an hour, gusting up to 60 kilometres an hour. The fire spread rapidly, and spotting occurred up to 4 kilometres ahead of the main firefront. Ground crews were again pulled back from the fire, and fixed-wing aerial support was forced to withdraw.

The fire moved outside of the park at 1.00 pm, and began to spot into private property in Tonimbuk. By 1.40 pm the fire was spotting heavily into Drouin, threatening several residential properties. By 2.00 pm spot fires were hitting Longwarry North, Drouin and Robin Hood, and by 2.30 they were reported up to 16 kilometres ahead of the firefront. Between 3.00 and 5.00 pm spotting was reported at Warragul (20 kilometres ahead of the firefront), Buln Buln and Nilma.

A south-westerly wind change hit the fire, and by 5.45 pm its 15 kilometre north-eastern flank had become its head. The fire moved north-east towards Neerim South, threatening the townships of Jindivick, Jindivick West, Rokeby and Crossover. At about 6.00 pm fires were reported in Drouin, Warragul, Longwarry, Longwarry North and Labertouche. At this stage the fire had no continuous front and consisted of numerous tongues formed from spot fires.

The fire on private land had largely been brought under control by 8 February, although responses such as back-burning and other suppression efforts were required for many weeks. The fire was contained at 5.30 pm on 4 March. After the construction of 130 kilometres of control lines, it was declared safe at 2.35 pm on 15 May. The fire burned 26,200 hectares, and destroyed 31 houses.

The Bunyip Fire & Professional Firefighting Response

Seventeen fires were reported in Bunyip State Park in early February 2009.

The ‘Bunyip Ridge Track fire’, which was reported at about 17:21 on 4 February.

The fire burned in two distinct phases. Between 4 February and the morning of 7 February it progressed relatively slowly through the park and was treated as a ‘campaign’ fire, being managed with a view to containment because access to the park was limited.

In the second phase, beginning on 7 February, the fire escaped from the park and burned like many other fires on the day, moving rapidly over large tracts of land and destroying houses, property and other assets. The fire was eventually contained on 4 March, having burnt approximately 26,200 hectares. Thirty-one houses had been destroyed.

Firefighting resources On 7 February, 313 CFA, 23 MFB and 542 NEO personnel attended the fire. They were supported by 72 CFA appliances, 6 MFB appliances and 10 aircraft.12.

“No fatalities”.

Chronology

February 5

On the morning of 5 February DSE and Parks Victoria started a burning-out operation between the north-western edge of the fire and the control line.

February 6

6 February the DSE website stated that it was expected the fire would be contained that evening.

Another DSE website update, at 21:00, reiterated the 17:30 message that it was expected the fire would be contained that evening, and at 23:30 the public was advised that crews were making good progress on the fire’s control lines.

The 23:30 DSE website update also warned that residents of Labertouche were likely to be affected by fire during 7 February and that nearby communities would probably experience smoke and embers and possibly fire.

February 7

At 09:45 Neerim was added to the media releases’ list of communities that should be prepared for direct impact by the fire. A number of smoke alert messages were then released throughout the morning. By 10:15 the predicted strong winds had not reached the fire ground and fire behaviour was recorded as moderate. After a full safety analysis and preparation of a safety plan, ground crews went back to the fire ground at about 11:00 to try to contain the fire’s spread to the east.

Aggressive air attack proceeded throughout the morning. This helped retard the fire’s forward progress by about two hours and mitigated its subsequent impact on communities.

By noon the weather had deteriorated: the north-westerly wind was blowing at up to 30–40 kilometres an hour and gusting to 60 kilometres an hour. The fire spread rapidly, and spotting was occurring up to 4 kilometres ahead of the front. Unpredictable and erratic fire behaviour meant that it was now too dangerous to continue directly attacking the fire. The ground crews pulled back. The fixed-wing water bombers that had been providing aerial support were forced to land.

The first urgent threat message for the Bunyip fire was issued at 12:45, warning of ember attack and heavy spotting in Labertouche and Labertouche North.

At about 13:00 the fire escaped from Bunyip State Park, spotting into private property in Tonimbuk. Because of the continued erratic fire behaviour, the focus turned to community protection with the assistance of those water- bombing aircraft that were still able to operate.

The CFA Incident Management Team was then responsible for a rapidly moving and very destructive fire. CFA Sector Commander Mr Steve Lamble was prepositioned at Tonimbuk to meet the fire as it emerged from Bunyip State Park. He described the fire to Mr Smith: ‘… columns of flame [falling] forward out of the trees … [It] looked like someone was throwing a flamethrower out of the trees’.

Eleven strike teams were deployed to the Tonimbuk airport area at 13:25.

 

At 13:30 another urgent threat message was issued—this time for Garfield North, Tonimbuk, Labertouche, Robin Hood, Drouin West, Buln Buln, Tarago, Jindivick, Jindivick North, Longwarry, Longwarry North and Bunyip, noting that these townships were already experiencing ember attack.

The fire’s movement to private property had previously been identified as a trigger point in the operations plan, when DSE would formally hand over control of the fire to the CFA. When the handover occurred, at 13:45, Mr Smith became the Incident Controller and Mr Nugent became the Deputy Incident Controller.

at 14:00 urgent threat message for the outskirts of Drouin were added to the list.

An additional seven strike teams were later requested. The V/Line train line and the eastbound Princes Freeway were closed at this time. A few minutes later numerous residential properties came under threat. Major spot fires affecting Longwarry North, Robin Hood and Drouin were reported at 14:00, and by 14:30 waves of spot fires were occurring up to 16 kilometres ahead of the firefront.

Firefighting resources On 7 February, 313 CFA, 23 MFB and 542 NEO personnel attended the fire. They were supported by 72 CFA appliances, 6 MFB appliances and 10 aircraft.12 No fatalities.

Preparation for Support for the Bunyip Fire

In the lead-up to 7 February, Country Fire Authority brigades in Region 8 attended other incidents, including the Delburn fires, and planning and preparations were advanced in anticipation of fire escaping Bunyip State Park.

This meant that some brigades were already fatigued before 7 February.

Mr Trevor Owen, Region 8 CFA Operations Manager, prepared level 3 incident control centres at Pakenham and Moorooduc, and incident management teams were in position on the morning of 7 February. At that time Mr Owen supervised the move of MFB appliances to Dandenong, Springvale, Hallam, Frankston and Patterson River; this released CFA resources in those stations to respond to the Bunyip fire. Later in the day some of the MFB crews responded to fires in Narre Warren.12

From 08:00 on 7 February the Regional Emergency Coordination Centre was running at full capacity.13

Mr David Beards, captain of the Narre Warren Brigade, arrived at the Coral Drive fire at 16:55, some seven minutes after ignition. At 17:10 he was advised that a strike team was on its way but that no further resources were immediately available. Subsequently, a number of appliances attended the fire, among them MFB crews and appliances that were covering CFA stations in Dandenong, Hallam and Pakenham.31

Another fire, at Golf Club Road in Lynbrook, was first reported at 17:08, when a member of the public telephoned the Cranbourne fire station. The fire’s point of origin was in grassland on the western side of the South Gippsland Highway, about 300 metres north of Golf Club Road. The cause of the fire has not been determined.32

At 17:08 appliances, including MFB resources, started arriving at the fire. A strike team arrived at 17:30, and from 17:40 onwards a number of additional appliances attended.

Conclusion

The Opposition and Shadow Minister for Emergency Service and Member For Gembrook Bradley (Brad) Battin stated in the Victorian Parliament, Legislative Assembly , that ” “When we go back to February 2009, the minister should be able to tell us how many career firefighters were on the firefighting ground on 7 February for the first 5½ hours of Black Saturday. I can tell the house that it was zero,” 

Then on Facebook in response to challenges from Professional Firefighters Mr Battin responded with;

“This week in Parliament I made a statement that was incorrect.

It was my error and I take responsibility for it. I offended a lot of firefighters and for that I am sorry.

In my contribution I was talking about 1 fire and incorrectly mentioned Black Saturday as a whole.

I apologise for this and have spoken to some of the fire fighters affected to offer a personal apology.

The detail of the speech was about surge capacity, the need to protect it and the ability to have a successful integrated service.

I understand the pain this has caused and again apologise. As Shadow Minister I will continue to openly discuss future of fire services.”

 

Closing Statement

Has the Shadow Liberal Mnister (Battin) again got his information wrong and has he again has offended Professional Firefighters from DSE now DELWP, CFA and MFB. He needs to clarify his comments, his position and where he is obtaining his information.

Does the Opposition Leader support the comments of his minister knowing that they are wrong.

Both need to make  formal apologies both inside and outside the Parliament. They need to tell the community that the State’s Professional Firefighters were there on Black Saturday from the start of the campaign until the finish and anyone that says anything different are nothing more than liars.

The Community should be proud of our Professional Firefighters and the great work that they do and continue to do to protect the community.

Hang your heads in shame Mr Guy and Mr Battin. Professional Firefighters will never forget the slur against them.