Peter Ewing and his wife Marie survey some of the blackened 60 hectares on their farm beside the Hamilton Highway near Mortlake. A FARMER who lost three kilometres of fencing after a Department of Sustainability and Environment burn got out of control says the DSE is a law unto itself.
Nanjing Night Net

The Department of Sustainability and Environment says it will review what went wrong with Wednesday night’s fire, in which Mortlake sheep farmer Peter Ewing lost 60 hectares of grass.

Firefighters from the Country Fire Authority and DSE worked on the fire in the Thulborn Road area, west of Mortlake.

Fifteen units, including tankers, dozers and slip-on units as well as water bombing aircraft were used to help control the fire

Mr Ewing has about 295ha off the Hamilton Highway and said he and his brother fought the blaze with their own tanker when it threatened their property.

“It’s bloody shocking,” he said. “We were there probably from 5.30pm and got home by 10.30pm. If we hadn’t got on top of it, it would have gotten to Hexham.

“This is a pretty straight forward situation. Everyone you talk to in the CFA agrees, it’s one rule for landholders and members of the CFA and it’s another rule for the DSE.”

Mr Ewing said in the past fortnight a firebreak had been burnt around Crown land, which contained grass about 10 centimetres high.

He said the DSE had used a foam to extinguish the grass which he said was totally inadequate.

“It’s like me spitting to put it out,” he said.

“We weren’t notified of the burn, we never are.

“We’ve gotten to the end of a good hot summer and they would normally wait till autumn for this burn. Obviously they waited until it had cooled down yesterday.

“Their preparations are inadequate and they can’t control it. It seems they only use the CFA when it’s out of control.”

Mr Ewing said he would be compensated for the loss of fencing but half the farm was now unusable.

“It’s the inconvenience,” he said. “Some might say that is lucky but everyone here is pretty fire-conscious. They seem fairly blasé.”

Farmer David Thulborn also lost some sheds, fencing and grass on his late father’s property, the fire coming within two metres of an unoccupied house. “It was touch-and-go and it was only saved through the efficiency of a CFA truck and the helicopter,” he said.

Mr Thulborn said the sheds were relatively empty thanks to a clearing sale a couple of months ago, but the few items that remained were now just ash.

He agreed it was the wrong time to conduct a controlled burn. “With the amount of grass and the dryness etc, and the small equipment they were using, it was just totally inadequate.

“There needs to be more care and diligence when they do this sort of thing.”

The fire flared up about 6.45pm on Wednesday when it moved from the Mortlake common beyond control lines.

Wooriwyrite CFA captain John Morrison said it was sheer good luck that nothing worse happened.

“It’s a joke that DSE is allowed to burn without a bare-earth firebreak,” he said.

“They were ill-prepared to light the fire and unable to control it.

“Someone should be apologising to us for coming out to fix this up. Who is in charge and who is accountable?

“The insult to injury is that the DSE were paid overtime for their incompetence.”

Mortlake CFA group officer Doug Parker said it was always unfortunate when a fire got away from control lines.

“Every precaution needs to be taken to make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said.

“As far as CFA goes we like to see a bare-earth break instead of a water break. When we got there it was moving rapidly.”

DSE’s far south-west acting district manager Andrew Govanstone said the planned burn breached control lines, resulting in a 316-hectare grass fire.

“A review will be conducted into the cause of the breach,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.