The chorus to burn the trees down before they turn into an unstoppable inferno has reached a crescendo this morning — how do the commentators propose to stop the Victorian bushfires happening again? Burn it all. Here’s Greg Sheridan today for starters:

Could more aggressive backburning have saved human lives? If it could save lives then it must be pursued much, much more vigorously.”

Then there’s Miranda Devine’s take — blame:

…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.

Parks Victoria seem to agree. They want to use the Victorian fire crisis as an excuse to set fire to Wilson’s Promontory National Park again with massive back burns — and they have form.

It was the Thursday before Good Friday 2005 when someone — in DSE or Parks Victoria, who knows — ordered that a fire be lit in the swamp beside the Tidal River camping ground in Wilson’s Promontory National Park. Locals say that the fire was not out by the time the crew attending it were stood down.

Thousands of visitors arrived for Easter as usual and over that time a helicopter was brought in to ‘calm the fire’ next to the camping ground. The school holidays were straight after Easter and the north westerly gales that had been predicted for days arrived, turning that trickling fires into a raging bushfire. The local CFA fire brigades struggled to the fire in Tidal River but all hell had broken lose. The local crews were stood down to asset protection as the fire raced over Mount Oberon. The next morning police shut the Park and over 100 well-prepared state employees arrived to “manage” this fire for two months — not put it out. No-one was killed and the Epslin Inquiry papered over the cracks. The south end of Wilson’s Promontory was allowed to burn for two month with fire breaks cut from east to west. That permanent scar can now be seen from the sea.

A lightening strike last weekend started a fire on the Cap, as locals know it — that granite hill on the south end of Sealers Cove on the remote east coast of the prom. This was a natural fire and it was allowed to burn along the coast on the eastern side of the Vereker Ranges. It missed Paradise Vallley — one of the only ancient blue gum remnants left of the original Wilson’s Promontory landscape.

Tidal River was evacuated and the park shut — even though the fire was almost as far from Tidal River as is possible while still being on the Prom and travelling away from the tourist development.

Last night meetings were announced for the Yanakie community at the general store about 10km from the entrance to the Park on the neck of the Prom. Yanakie has not been threatened by a fires from the Prom in 150 years but locals last night were told that the Cap fire — a spluttering blaze going out after rain Sunday — was a threat to Yanakie. Understandably some locals were panicked — especially those who had not experienced fire — but they were not as panicked as they were when the Government men at the meeting presented plans for a massive back burn to be lit in three stages.

The first will be lit from the bottom of the hook of the Prom on near the coast at Miller’s landing with easterly winds expected, with the help of further ‘staged’ lightings’ by Parks Victoria to burn across to the coast near Cotters Lake, then down the coast to Whiskey Bay on one side and along the western face of the Vereker Range on the other. The planned control burn will produce a fire bigger than the 2005 fires!

The locals were split. Most were shell shocked at the size of the proposed burns — many times the size of the fire now going out in the rain in the northeast of the park. Others wanted to know why this fuel-reduction burning was not done earlier. One woman wanted to know if she should refer her insurance company to Parks Victoria as it was clear that it was the proposed backburn that was the only threat to Yanakie. Several people said they would sue Parks Victoria if anything happened to their homes.

Some people put their heads in their hands and muttered “here we go again” and just walked out demoralised. They left the meeting knowing full well that the uniformed bureaucrats had their plans and would not listen.

Bulldozers have already been sent to Tidal river to make fire breaks which have also been cut around the accommodation at the entrance to the park — but the park is closed and locals cannot confirm the damage.

This National Park is surrounded by sea — fire on it cannot even spot and has never burned out of the park. Yanakie is growing green crops and it’s freezing — the weather is cold and wet with the locals reporting steady rain this morning on both the fire east coast Cap and on Yanakie.

Why is it that Parks Victoria and DSE get away with taking every opportunity to light fires in National Parks and stir local sentiment for more and more fires? Do they profit from with bigger crews, more overtime, greater public prominence? Who are they accountable to? Who is driving this ideological campaign to burn, burn burn? There’s grist for Brumby’s Royal Commission.

Peter Fray

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