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2003 bushfire’s behaviour was unpredictable

By Kerces - 12 July 2006 19

No one could have predicted the speed of the bushfires of January 18, 2003, the counsel acting for former Emergency Services Bureau executive director Mike Castle and former chief fire control officer Peter Lucas-Smith told the ACT Coroner’s Court yesterday.

The Canberra Times reports that Peter Hastings, QC said all models the fire services had been working off predicted the fire wouldn’t reach Canberra’s suburbs until at least 8 that night. The fires hit at approximately 3 in the afternoon.

In his final submission Mr Hastings told the court that through their criticism of the two men, counsel assisting the coroner seemed to expect Mr Lucas-Smith and Mr Castle to have “some prescience no one else showed”.

The court heard that the fire covered 12km between 1pm and 3pm, travelling about three times faster than anyne had predicted. In a submission made by Mr Lucas-Smith and Mr Castle, planner Hilton Taylor said, “The fire just seemed to burn across bare ground, defying all the models.”

Mr Hastings also recalled Mr Lucas-Smith earlier evidence to the inquest that he did warn residents on the western side of the ACT, particularly those in Weston Creek, in a noon press conference on January 18 to take precautions and prepare for the fire. These warnings were repeated in the local ABC radio’s 1pm news bulletin.

The Emergency Service Bureau also prepared a standard emergency warning signal for broadcast, which were apparently approved just after 2pm but could not be sent until 2.40, just 20 minutes before the fires hit Duffy, because of problems with their fax machine.

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19 Responses to
2003 bushfire’s behaviour was unpredictable
ant 10:55 pm 12 Jul 06

Thumper, you are spot-on.

H 6:37 pm 12 Jul 06

I knew it was time to go the evening before. I had my mother staying with me. She used to live in a semi-rural area north of Sydney and got evacuated due to fire many, many times. At about 1pm the day the fire hit I asked her: “Did you ever get left without being evacuated in conditions like this before?”

Her answer was “HELL NO! we were gone hours before it ever got this bad”; and so we started packing.

Thumper 1:34 pm 12 Jul 06

I’ve already told it previously.

Yes, it was easy to predict that it would hit the urban area. Especially on the morning of the 18th. Howling gales from the South West, incredible temperatures, tinder dry bush from recent hot weather and lack of rain, and the not insignificant fact that there was a rather large fire out there.

Bullshead was a fireball only days before when we pulled out. And we got stood down on the night of the 17th at about 2230 or something. I recall the night sky had an evil orange sort of glow out to the south west.

And once it got there nothing was going to stop it.

And residents should have had 24, maybe 48 hours warning. As it was they got no warning at all until they saw the red stuff bearing down on them.

In my opinion the government totally and utterly failed the ACT public in regard to the fires. And then to compound this they attempted to hide this by slowly and surely turning the blame away from themselves, and finally, tried to disrail the coroner.

Enough said.

Big Al 1:13 pm 12 Jul 06

It was 40 degrees at 10 in the morning, with a 50kmh hour wind … and I had a Catagory 12 hangover.

Growling Ferret 1:02 pm 12 Jul 06

It was 40 degrees at 10 in the morning, with a 50kmh hour wind. 1000 firies with 100 pumpers would not have stopped it.

Thumper – you were there, tell us a story…

seepi 12:09 pm 12 Jul 06

If they thought the fires could hit at 8.00 that day they should have been warning people for days. Many people were away at the coast, or out for the day.
Even now do we have a better warning system?

ant 12:07 pm 12 Jul 06

The fires WERE predicted, weeks out, by a bunch of weather geeks on a website I hang out on. Their behaviour, their ferocity, the lot. I’ll try and find a link to the discussion. Val Jeffery at Tharwa also seemed to know what was going to happen.

simto 11:27 am 12 Jul 06

You said more than that with your unusually juvenille “strikethorough” side-comment.

I’d agree if your point is that Kerces probably could have phrased the headline and the first line better to make it clear that these are merely government claims at the inquest, not facts. But that didn’t seem to be the point you were making.

johnboy 11:17 am 12 Jul 06

–> Simto: I’m just saying the claims of a lawyer in defence of a client are not a credible source. What the coroner decides having heard the evidence is the important information.

–> Big Al: I agree completely. But when the Government has been making public statements that there is no danger, when they know there is a danger, then I think the public have a right to be angry about that.

Big Al 11:00 am 12 Jul 06

Yeah, because for one reason or another it seems so many Canberrans have become used to having the nanny state wipe their arse for them – instead of making up their own mind, taking a little responsibility for themselves and acting in their own best interests they say around that afternoon waiting for the nice man from the Government to come and hold their hand for them … now we have to find someone to blame, because surely their own incapacity to look after themselves cant be the problem.

Thumper 10:52 am 12 Jul 06

Must… not… comment…..

simto 10:45 am 12 Jul 06

Oh, dear, how dare a lawyer present his side of the case. How terribly inconvenient for you, Johnboy.

Perhaps we should allow all people to immediately be convicted on how journliaralists percieve reality to be? Would that be more convenient for you?

Mr Evil 10:44 am 12 Jul 06

Exactly Pandy, I was wondering that myself.

Pandy 10:30 am 12 Jul 06

So the fires were going to hit at 8pm? When were we going to be told about that? 7:30pm?

johnboy 10:26 am 12 Jul 06

*sigh* now even RiotACT is parroting the lines from the paid liar lawyer for the culpable party.

A great many people predicted the fires hitting the suburbs, as I’m sure the coroner will tell us when she releases her findings.

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