Winmalee Rural Fire Service went public recently with their frustrations over a cancelled hazard reduction.
Winmalee RFS captain Anthony Black placed a 1m x 1.5m official brigade sign at the Winmalee Shopping Centre on Friday, September 14 to express dismay about a last-minute cancellation of planned hazard reduction.
The “urgent notice” said a planned two-day burn-off, which would have seen 82 hectares burnt in and around the St Columba’s College area had been stopped and he wasn’t happy about it.
“Dear Winmalee residents,” the sign read, “Just so you know, this proposed hazard reduction burn was ‘postponed’ at the direction of ‘Sydney’ because (so-called) “smoke modelling’ suggested dangerous levels of smoke in the “Sydney Basin”.
“I did argue (on behalf of all of us) that bushfires present dangerous levels of smoke AND FIRE TO US!”
The fire captain left phone numbers for the public to call and complain. And they did. Stung by a community backlash, Blue Mountains district manager, Superintendent David Jones, defended the move, saying the judgement call had not been taken lightly.
Supt Jones, who has just notched up his third month in the job after running the RFS central western region, based at Orange, said it was a “public health issue”.
Data shown to the Gazette by Supt Jones shows very high to extreme air quality levels had been predicted if the planned burns had not finished by Saturday lunchtime.
The Gazette was sent messages via Facebook claiming the prescribed burns had been called off because of the Sydney Running Festival which was on the same weekend.
Greg Corrigan, the Group Blue Mountains District Captain for the East sector (which covers Winmalee) said “there was a lot of miscommunication . . . some were under the misapprehension it was called off because of the marathon.”
Hazard reduction was not limited to spring and autumn, Mr Corrigan said, and there were still opportunities for these kinds of prescribed burns right through summer.
Supt Jones said he understood the community perspective but the RFS had a responsibility to the wider community of NSW where “serious health issues” were expected, “such as asthma attacks”.
Management sent out an internal memo soon after the incident advising Mountains members about speaking publicly.
A cautious Captain Black returned Gazette’s calls as the paper was going to press saying the group had been “frustrated” but it “wasn’t directed at district office”.
“There is such a huge amount of preparation for volunteers . . . our loyalties are to the Rural Fire Service but we are also from a community and our loyalties are also to the safety of the community.”
The work has been re-scheduled for this weekend.
A public meeting on enhancing hazard reduction is planned for tomorrow (Thursday, September 27) from 6 to 8pm.