Thursday, February 12, 2009


Greenie fanaticism has just killed over 300 Australians

Angry fire survivors blame council 'green' policy

ANGRY residents last night accused local authorities of contributing to the bushfire toll by failing to let residents chop down trees and clear up bushland that posed a fire risk. During question time at a packed community meeting in Arthurs Creek on Melbourne's northern fringe, Warwick Spooner - whose mother Marilyn and brother Damien perished along with their home in the Strathewen blaze - criticised the Nillumbik council for the limitations it placed on residents wanting the council's help or permission to clean up around their properties in preparation for the bushfire season. "We've lost two people in my family because you dickheads won't cut trees down," he said. "We wanted trees cut down on the side of the road . and you can't even cut the grass for God's sake."

Later, the meeting was cut short when Mr Spooner's father, Dennis, collapsed in his chair and an ambulance had to be called. Despite losing his wife and son and everything he owned, a friend later said he had not stopped or slept since the weekend.

Another resident said she had asked the council four times to tend to out-of-control growth on public land near her home, but her pleas had been ignored. There was widespread applause when Nillumbik Mayor Bo Bendtsen said changes were likely to be made about the council's policy surrounding native vegetation. But his response was not good enough for Mr Spooner: "It's too late now mate. We've lost families, we've lost people."

More than 500 people spilled out of the small hall during the meeting, at which the CFA, Victoria Police, Department of Human Services and Telstra provided updates. Many expressed anger that police road blocks were stopping them from reaching survivors trapped in fire-ravaged areas with no water, power or other basic needs. One man present spoke of counselling a woman whose two children had been killed and whose grief had been compounded by not knowing where they were because the area had been declared a crime scene and she had not been allowed to return.

Most of those present were tired, grieving the loss of relatives and friends and with little more than the smoke-coated clothes on their backs. Some were still showing symptoms of shock after experiencing the worst natural disaster in the nation's history. Scattered around the hall and outside were trestle tables with clothing sorted in neat piles, toiletries, food and bottled water. On the floor were dozens of pairs of shoes. There was also a section dedicated to baby clothes and another for children's toys.

Of all the speakers who addressed the meeting, it was Arthurs Creek CFA Captain David McGahy who got the most rousing reception. Choking back tears he told them: "I'm so terribly sorry. We desperately wanted to protect you but we couldn't. "In the cold analysis of light, it wouldn't have mattered if we'd have had 200 units here, all that would have happened is we would have ended up with a whole lot of dead firefighters. I've been at this game for about 40 years and I haven't experienced anything like that, not even remotely like it."


Fined for illegal clearing, family now feel vindicated

They were labelled law breakers, fined $50,000 and left emotionally and financially drained. But seven years after the Sheahans bulldozed trees to make a fire break - an act that got them dragged before a magistrate and penalised - they feel vindicated. Their house is one of the few in Reedy Creek still standing.

The Sheahans' 2004 court battle with the Mitchell Shire Council for illegally clearing trees to guard against fire, as well as their decision to stay at home and battle the weekend blaze, encapsulate two of the biggest issues arising from the bushfire tragedy. Do Victoria's native vegetation management policies need a major overhaul? And should families risk injury or death by staying home to fight the fire rather than fleeing?

Anger at government policies stopping residents from cutting down trees and clearing scrub to protect their properties is already apparent. "We've lost two people in my family because you dickheads won't cut trees down," Warwick Spooner told Nillumbik Mayor Bo Bendtsen at a meeting on Tuesday night.

Although Liam Sheahan's 2002 decision to disregard planning laws and bulldoze 250 trees on his hilltop property hurt his family financially and emotionally, he believes it helped save them and their home on the weekend. "The house is safe because we did all that," he said as he pointed out his kitchen window to the clear ground where tall gum trees once cast a shadow on his house. "We have got proof right here. We are the only house standing in a two-kilometre area." At least seven houses and several sheds on neighbouring properties along Thompson-Spur road in Reedy Creek were destroyed by Saturday night's blaze.

Saving their home was no easy task. At 2pm on Saturday, Mr Sheahan saw the nearby hills ablaze. He knew what lay ahead when the predicted south-westerly change came. The family of four had discussed evacuation but decided their property was defensible, due largely to their decision to clear a fire break. It also helped that Mr Sheahan, his son Rowan and daughter Kirsten were all experienced members of the local CFA. "We prayed and we worked bloody hard. Our house was lit up eight times by the fire as the front passed," Mr Sheahan said. "The elements off our TV antenna melted. We lost a Land Rover, two Subarus, a truck and trailer and two sheds."

Mr Sheahan is still angry about his prosecution, which cost him $100,000 in fines and legal fees. The council's planning laws allow trees to be cleared only when they are within six metres of a house. Mr Sheahan cleared trees up to 100 metres away from his house. "The council stood up in court and made us to look like the worst, wanton environmental vandals on the earth. We've got thousands of trees on our property. We cleared about 247," he said.

He said the royal commission on the fires must result in changes to planning laws to allow land owners to clear trees and vegetation that pose a fire risk. "Both the major parties are pandering to the Greens for preferences and that is what is causing the problem. Common sense isn't that common these days," Mr Sheahan said.

Melbourne University bushfire expert Kevin Tolhurst gave evidence to help the Sheahan family in their legal battle with the council. "Their fight went over nearly two years. The Sheahans were victimised. It wasn't morally right," he said yesterday. Dr Tolhurst told the Seymour Magistrates court that Mr Sheahan's clearing of the trees had reduced the fire risk to his house from extreme to moderate. "That their house is still standing is some natural justice for the Sheahans," he said.

He said council vegetation management rules required re-writing. He also called on the State Government to provide clearer guidelines about when families should stay and defend their property. Houses in fire-prone areas should be audited by experts to advise owners whether their property is defensible, Dr Tolhurst said.

Mr Sheahan said he wanted others to learn from his experience and offered an invitation for Government ministers to visit his property. He would also like his convictions overturned and fines repaid. "It would go a long way to making us feel better about the system. But I don't think it will happen."


Green ideas must take blame for deaths

By Miranda Devine

It wasn't climate change which killed as many as 300 people in Victoria last weekend. It wasn't arsonists. It was the unstoppable intensity of a bushfire, turbo-charged by huge quantities of ground fuel which had been allowed to accumulate over years of drought. It was the power of green ideology over government to oppose attempts to reduce fuel hazards before a megafire erupts, and which prevents landholders from clearing vegetation to protect themselves.

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

Governments appeasing the green beast have ignored numerous state and federal bushfire inquiries over the past decade, almost all of which have recommended increasing the practice of "prescribed burning". Also known as "hazard reduction", it is a methodical regime of burning off flammable ground cover in cooler months, in a controlled fashion, so it does not fuel the inevitable summer bushfires.

In July 2007 Scott Gentle, the Victorian manager of Timber Communities Australia, who lives in Healesville where two fires were still burning yesterday, gave testimony to a Victorian parliamentary bushfire inquiry so prescient it sends a chill down your spine. "Living in an area like Healesville, whether because of dumb luck or whatever, we have not experienced a fire . since . about 1963. God help us if we ever do, because it will make Ash Wednesday look like a picnic." God help him, he was right.

Gentle complained of obstruction from green local government authorities of any type of fire mitigation strategies. He told of green interference at Kinglake - at the epicentre of Saturday's disaster, where at least 147 people died - during a smaller fire there in 2007. "The contractors were out working on the fire lines. They put in containment lines and cleared off some of the fire trails. Two weeks later that fire broke out, but unfortunately those trails had been blocked up again [by greens] to turn it back to its natural state . Instances like that are just too numerous to mention. Governments . have been in too much of a rush to appease green idealism . This thing about locking up forests is just not working."

The Kinglake area was a nature-loving community of tree-changers, organic farmers and artists to the north of Melbourne. A council committed to reducing carbon emissions dominates the Nillumbik shire, a so-called "green wedge" area, where restrictions on removing vegetation around houses reportedly added to the dangers. In nearby St Andrews, where more than 20 people are believed to have died, surviving residents have spoken angrily of "greenies" who prevented them from cutting back trees near their property, including in one case, a tea tree that went "whoomp". Dr Phil Cheney, the former head of the CSIRO's bushfire research unit and one of the pioneers of prescribed burning, said yesterday if the fire-ravaged Victorian areas had been hazard-reduced, the flames would not have been as intense.

Kinglake and Maryville, now crime scenes, are built among tall forests of messmate stringy bark trees which pose a special fire hazard, with peeling bark creating firebrands that carry fire five kilometres out. "The only way to reduce the flammability of the bark is by prescribed burning" every five to seven years, Cheney said. He estimates between 35 and 50 tonnes a hectare of dry fuel were waiting to be gobbled up by Saturday's inferno.

Fuel loads above about eight tonnes a hectare are considered a fire hazard. A federal parliamentary inquiry into bushfires in 2003 heard that a fourfold increase in ground fuel leads to a 13-fold increase in the heat generated by a fire.

Things are no better in NSW, although we don't quite have Victoria's perfect storm of winds and forest types. Near Dubbo two years ago, as a bushfire raged through the Goonoo Community Conservation Area, volunteer firefighters bulldozing a control line were obstructed by National Parks and Wildlife Service employees who had driven from Sydney to stop vegetation being damaged.

The poor management of national parks and state forests in Victoria is highlighted by the interactive fire map on the website of the Department of Sustainability and Environment. Yesterday it showed that, of 148 fires started since mid-January, 120 started in state forests, national parks, or other public land, and just 21 on private property.

Only seven months ago, the Victorian Parliament's Environment and Natural Resources Committee tabled its report into the impact of public land management on bushfires, with five recommendations to enhance prescribed burning. This included tripling the amount of land to be hazard-reduced from 130,000 to 385,000 hectares a year. There has been little but lip service from the Government in response. Teary politicians might pepper their talking points with opportunistic intimations of "climate change" and "unprecedented" weather, but they are only diverting the blame. With yes-minister fudging and craven inclusion of green lobbyists in decision-making, they have greatly exacerbated this tragedy.

There is an opening now in Victoria for a predatory legal firm with a taste for David v Goliath class actions.


Greenies STILL want to ban preventive burnoffs

This lot should be charged with attempted murder

Controlled burning would be declared a key national threat to biodiversity under a new proposal before government that has been slammed as dangerous to life and property. While Environment Minister Peter Garrett yesterday gave Victoria carte blanche to do all it needed to control its deadly bushfires, without review by federal environment laws, it emerged he will be asked next year to decide whether prescribed burning to reduce fuel loads puts plants and animals at risk.

A Department of Environment spokeswoman confirmed yesterday it had received a public submission to list controlled burning as a "key threatening process" - the same category that applies to climate change, land clearing and feral cats, pigs and foxes. "This recommendation is due by late 2010," she said.

Victoria's bushfire tragedy has focused attention on the management of its state forests, national parks and other Crown land, which make up a third of the state but contributed four-fifths of the fires started since Australia Day. Among councils to resist controlled burning was the Yarra Ranges Shire, which was hit heavily by the Black Saturday bushfire disaster. In a document from 2007, its emergency resource officer said there was too little known about its effect on flora and fauna and called for "rigorous" environmental assessment of prescribed burning, taking account of species' breeding seasons and the Leadbeater's possum zone. "The Shire of Yarra Ranges has not undertaken prescribed burning on public land under its control for a number of years," the document said, citing a lack of expertise and the risk of lawsuits.

David Packham, a former supervising meteorologist for fire weather nationwide at the Bureau of Meteorology, accused environmentalists of behaving like "eco-terrorists waging a jihad" against prescribed burning. "The green movement is directly responsible for the severity of these fires through their opposition to prescribed burning," Mr Packham said.

The federal Environment Department's spokeswoman declined to name the applicant behind the proposal to list controlled burning as a "key threatening process". But bushfire consultant Chris Muller, a former fire officer with the Victorian and West Australian governments, said the proposal would make it even harder to carry out precautionary burn-offs to reduce fuel loads in forests. "I am appalled that Minister Garrett would even contemplate an action that would remove or restrict the use of the only effective large bushfire mitigation tool -- prescribed burning," he said. "The inevitable consequences of such action are disasters on the scale of that currently experienced in Victoria." Victoria already lists "inappropriate fire regimes" and "high frequency fires" as potential threats to the environment, which Mr Muller said reflected attempts to limit controlled burning.

Yesterday, Mr Garrett granted the Victorian Government an indefinite emergency exemption to take "any actions required" to respond to the bushfire crisis without waiting for approval by federal environment authorities. His department's spokeswoman said, however, Victoria did not normally need federal sign-off for firebreaks or controlled burns. "Victoria has environmental management plans approved by the Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts that protect the environment and ensure that federal environmental approval processes do not get in the way of effective fire management in Victoria," she said. "Indeed, they include a provision that in an emergency, protection of life and property would be paramount."

The spokeswoman said the application to list prescribed burning as a threatening process would undergo "rigorous scientific evaluation" by an expert panel as well as public consultation before it went to Mr Garrett for a decision.



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