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.