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‘I felt like, well, I lit the fire that burnt down Canberra’

By Ari 12 March 2007 21

It’s going to be an interesting week in for both local and NSW politics once tonight’s Four Corners program on the 2003 bushfires goes to air.

A couple of choice quotes (via AAP):

“One of the paid staff of the RFS said: ‘Oh, it’s only s..t country, it’s burning pretty slow, why not let it burn’ and they all seized on that as a brilliant idea and that was the end of the meeting,” Mr Cathles tells ABC TV’s Four Corners in a program to be aired tonight.

“They actually decided by consensus to do nothing and I sort of lived with this a year or two and I ultimately wrote to the coroner, Maria Doogan, and told her this.”


“I felt like, well, I lit the fire that burnt down Canberra,” [volunteer firefighter Hugh Patterson] told Four Corners.

“I was there with hundreds of other firefighters lighting backburns and you know, somewhere or other those fires grew to become the fires that swept into Canberra.

“It’s not a rational analysis of the history of the fire. But it is traumatic for me and it still weighs on my mind, as I guess a personal failure.”

These people on the ground felt like they failed, but surely they can take comfort in Jon Stanhope’s words immediately after the event (once the post-dinner party hangover had worn off): “If you want to blame someone, blame me.”

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‘I felt like, well, I lit the fire that burnt down Canberra’
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TCF 11:34 pm 16 Mar 07

The video footage shown was a spotfire of the main McIntyre’s Hut fire, i.e. A fire started downwind by embers from the main fire. If you care to note Phil Cheney’s interview in the show, he specifically says that the CSIRO researchers were out searching for spotfires. The Coroner’s report also backs up that statement.

I believe the incident controller on the 8th (NSW NPWS) made the right decision not to make a direct attack on the main fire that day, as it had grown from a single lightning strike to a 200ha fire in a matter of hours. Photo evidence of the smoke produced from the main McIntyre’s Hut fire that day can be found here:;f=18;t=000394;p=2

It might be easy to drive in close to the fire front for a look in a standard 4wd and then turn around and retreat, but it is a totally different story for a couple of 15 tonne fire truck’s with 6 lives on board. Further to that, if everyones such an expert on firefighting and more importantly fire fighter safety, I’m sure the ACTRFS could use some arm chair experts after all their real experience unfortunately just resigned.

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