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Saturday, May 16, 2015

CFS internal document gives weight to claims Sampson Flat bushfire was not hit hard from the start

ANDREW FAULKNER Sunday Mail (SA) May 16, 2015 11:17PM CFS crews putting out hot spots near Kersbrook. Picture: Roger Wyman •CFS volunteers say more homes could have been saved •Police return to probe cause of damaging bushfire •See Hills bushfire from the air CLAIMS the Sampson Flat bushfire was not hit hard enough from the start have been given weight by an internal document revealing the CFS response to the blaze, which destroyed 27 properties. The document details the first six hours of CFS response to the fire and shows about 20 appliances were scrambled at 12.30pm to meet the initial threat. But between 2.04pm — when the fire was downgraded to a “reduced” threat less than two hours after it started on January 2 — and 4.30pm, only eight units were sent to the fireground. The spreadsheet shows no crews were deployed between 3.30pm and 4.30pm. At 3.30pm the CFS issued an emergency warning that the fire was burning out of control in a south-easterly direction and was a threat to lives and homes. Fire raging at Cudlee Creek. Picture: PHIL WILLIAMS The spreadsheet shows emergency strike teams from the MFS were deployed at 4.30pm — by which time winds had picked up to 60km/h — and by late afternoon/evening about 30 appliances were scrambled to the scene. The Sampson Flat fire being downgraded to a “reduced” threat status is a matter of public record but the CFS will not respond to any questions about its handling of the fire. “We felt it was inappropriate to comment on anonymous stories coming from anonymous sources,” a CFS spokesman said this week. More CFS volunteers, who have asked that their names not be used, have come forward to the Sunday Mail to voice their concerns about how the fire was handled. TURNBULL INTERVIEW PART 1 They say more houses could have been saved if adequate resources were dispatched to the fire front on the opening day. “The fire wasn’t handled well from the start,” a brigade captain said. Volunteers have pointed to a broad range of problems with how the fire was fought, including: BRIGADES close to the fire being left idle while units from as far afield as Clare were called in. BOMBER planes being stood down within hours of the fire starting. APPLIANCES spending too much time waiting at staging areas. POOR communications on the fireground and too much traffic on CFS radios. MFS appliances that “seemed lost” under CFS command. CFS leaders have previously hailed the firefighting effort a success because no one died, a line that was readily repeated by the State Government. The Sunday Mail has also seen a memo issued to all CFS members on the eve of the fire telling firefighters to make saving lives their prime objective, and to “focus on firefighting once conditions moderate”. Some volunteers are worried this indicates an unwillingness to protect property — including livestock and pets — to minimise the risk to firefighters. One volunteer contacted the Sunday Mail to say the Sampson Flat fire danger was underestimated by some firefighters and not necessarily only the paid CFS staff. He said he could clearly remember hearing a firefighter say on the CFS frequency that “we’ve got this now ... we’ll be out of here in half an hour”. “It all went to s*** in the first half an hour,” the volunteer said. “I just had a feeling this was going to blow up.”

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