The Victorian Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires kicked off this week amid its fair share of controversy. As victims’ claims that they’ve been denied a voice in the process dominated the headlines, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment’s prescribed burns continued across the state:

Meanwhile, this morning DSE put out a fire alert for the Western District. A DSE spokesperson spoke to Jon Faine on ABC 774 this morning (listen here):

DSE: Look we’re specifically worried about the wind and specifically in the Western part of the state, the fire danger isn’t going to move above very high but it’s going to be quite windy in that area today and there’s been quite a bit of burning going on … some of it DSE planned burning but there’s also a lot of private burning going on…

FAINE: …so do you want that suspended for tomorrow?

DSE: Well it’s for today … but I suspect people probably are suspending it… I know the CFA have put out information out to their areas about the fact the wind is picking up…

FAINE: We’ve had a bit of rain … since the dreadful February experiences, hasn’t that helped?

DSE: Yeah the Eastern part of the state, like in East Gippsland actually has had some of rain so today we’re actually doing quite a lot of burning there but the west has missed out, the North West part of the state’s got nothing, effectively. Some areas are still quite dry and certainly in the burning we’ve been doing over the last week, and we’ve been quite active, we have had difficulty at times with the very dry fuels if fires do spot out, they will run.

Here’s today’s DSE list of all current Victorian fires

Crikey reader Laurence Gaffney has been concerned about escaped fires in his own area.

Gaffney is concerned about the type of forest that was burnt in an escape from a controlled burn at the Dowey Fireline, East of Powelltown. He told Crikey that “Transitional Forest is moving towards a closed canopy (rainforest) type vegetation community. This type of Forest in comparison to sclerophyll (eucalypt) forest increases the amount of water retained in the landscape, as well as increasing soil fertility.”

“While the DSE has admitted to the escape,” says Gaffney. “I have not been able to detect any real concern on their part as to its implications and longer term affects such as regional climate change.”

Gaffney sent the following email to Victorian Environment Minister Gavin Jennings at the start of the month:

From: Laurence Gaffney

To: [email protected]

Cc: [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; [email protected] ; Carvalho Caroline

Sent: Wednesday, April 01, 2009 8:25 AM

Subject: Escaped Prescribed Burn – Dowey Fireline – East of Powelltown

Hello Gavin

I refer to the escaped prescribed burn listed on the DSE website as Lowey Fireline, East of Powelltown. The area size of the escape now appears to be larger than the original intended burn area. The DSE has somewhat belatedly listed this escape as a separate fire on their website but make no reference to the fact that it is an escaped prescribed burn.

The escaped fire has impacted on transitional forest which is intolerant of fire. In the absence of fire this type of forest usually changes over time to a rainforest type vegetation community. This type of vegetation community is under severe threat within Victorian Forests.

1. Who was responsible for managing this prescribed burn?

2. Who is accountable for the escape?

3. What will be the process for investigating and reporting back on the reasons for this escape together with recommendations for preventing further such escapes in the future?

4. How will the impact of the escape on the forest ecology be assessed?

5. What remedial action will be taken?

Yours sincerely,

Laurence Gaffney

Gaffney tells Crikey he has yet to hear from anyone at DSE or Jennings’ office so Crikey put his questions to Jennings ourselves this morning. We await their response with interest. Meanwhile, let’s hope the winds don’t pick up out West…

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