ENVIRONMENT, WATER AND NATURAL RESOURCES DEPARTMENT FIRE MANAGEMENT

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:24 :29 ): My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation. Minister, does the CFS provide training to DEWNR employees and, if so, how much does DEWNR pay the CFS for that training?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:25 :00 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question. As I have advised in this chamber previously, DEWNR is the largest CFS brigade in the state. We are funded to provide services not just for state‑owned land but also in relation to firefighting services more generally.

The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources is responsible for fire management activities to help minimise the impact of bushfires on public lands under my care and control. These lands cover over 23 per cent of the state, but we also play, as I said, a major role in supporting the South Australian Country Fire Service in response to bushfire emergencies right across the state.

The key component of DEWNR's fire management activities is the delivery of an annual rolling program of prescribed burning to reduce fuels in strategic locations on public lands in an attempt to reduce the impact of bushfires on life, property and the environment, and the importance of prescribed burning was reinforced during the Sampson Flat bushfire in January 2015 with post-fire analysis showing that prescribed burning played a pivotal role in containing the spread of the bushfire.

In fact, I think I might have mentioned previously in this place I had a discussion with the incident controller who pointed out to me on the map previous DEWNR burns over the last several years and said that, in his opinion at least, had those burns not been put in place over those last five or seven years, there would have been no way of stopping the Sampson Flat bushfire from progressing further towards populated areas of the ranges. So, at least in the incident controller's opinion, those historic burns were very important, and we know from other analyses that they play an important role.

DEWNR's fire management operating budget for 2015-16 is, I am advised, $10.304 million. This funding employs 127 specialist fire management staff. This includes 76 seasonal project firefighters who are employed for nine months of the year over the fire season to assist in prescribed burning and bushfire response activities.

Of these, 27 are employed under a memorandum of understanding between DEWNR, SA Water and ForestrySA. DEWNR forms the largest brigade of the Country Fire Service with 496 brigade members including 347 firefighters who can be called on at any time to attend bushfire incidents both on and off public land, as far as I have been advised, as well as being able to conduct prescribed burning.

The budget also supports DEWNR's fleet of 84 firefighting appliances comprising, I am advised, 53 quick-response four-wheel drive vehicles with a 400 litre water capacity, or fire retardant capacity; 19 large trucks with 1,000 to 3,500 litre capacity; and 12 bulk water carriers. I am further advised that the fire intensity mapping and analysis undertaking follow the Bangor bushfire of 2014 and the recent Sampson Flat bushfire of January 2015 provides evidence of prescribed burns, modified bushfire behaviour and spread.

These fuel-reduced areas provide buffers for firefighters to gain a tactical advantage during a bushfire event while also providing refuge for wildlife both during a bushfire and in the period of recovery after the fire. DEWNR also plays a lead role in delivering fire management activities on other public lands. An interagency agreement has been in place with SA Water since 2005 for DEWNR to deliver fire management activities on SA Water managed lands. A similar arrangement is in place with ForestrySA to assist in the delivery of fire management activities in the Mid North region.

The collaborative and cooperative spirit that these agencies have demonstrated, including the Country Fire Service, is aiding the state to meet an increasing bushfire threat, through the effective and efficient use of resources. These arrangements have been formalised through a heads of agencies agreement and the development of a code of practice for fire management on public lands in South Australia.

In 2014-15 DEWNR responded to provide support to the CFS at 44 bushfire incidents, I am advised, burning 46,458 hectares, with the Sampson Flat bushfire being the most notable event. I am advised that DEWNR staff contributed in excess of 11,000 hours at Sampson Flat alone.

Support provided by DEWNR included firefighters, incident management personnel and specialist roles involved enhanced mapping support, air operations, portable automatic weather station operators, ground observers, and bushfire prediction and fire behaviour specialists. DEWNR also played a key role in supporting private landowners in recovery efforts following the Sampson Flat bushfire through the provision of technical advice and resources to landholders.

DEWNR has staff and vehicles dedicated to firefighting, as I have outlined. DEWNR's firefighting resources are available for response across the state, interstate and also internationally. The task of prescribed burns in national parks will not be affected by any other involvement. Of course, this is one of the primary responsibilities of the DEWNR crews. I am happy to say that we work incredibly closely with the Country Fire Service, and I understand that they are very pleased with DEWNR's capability and ability to be mobilised at short notice.

 

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