27 August 2020

UPDATED: Results of Orroral Valley helicopter ignition investigation will not be released

| Dominic Giannini
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The Orroral Valley fire was the worst fire in the ACT since 2003. Photo: Gary Hooker.

The Department of Defence has confirmed results of an investigation into the helicopter that sparked the Territory’s worst fire season since 2003 will not be released.

The landing light of a MRH-90 Taipan helicopter is believed to have sparked the fire at the end of January while trying to clear landing zones in the national park.

“The investigation is an internal Defence activity, focused on the maintenance of aviation safety. It is not an investigation into the fire itself, nor the circumstances surrounding it,” a Defence spokesperson told Region Media.

READ MORE Army helicopter believed to have caused Orroral Valley fire

“The Bushfire Royal Commission is examining the range of issues arising from the recent fires, including the role of the Commonwealth and the ADF [Australian Defence Force] in responding to large-scale natural disasters.

“Defence has actively supported the Royal Commission in their work.”

The investigation is set to conclude by the end of August, but as of 25 August, the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) had not yet been approached to provide insight into the inquiry.

“The Orroral Valley fire ignition is under investigation by the Commonwealth, and we have yet to see the report on that,” ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said on Tuesday at the ACT Parliamentary Hearing into the Emergency Services’ Response to the 2019-20 Bushfire.

“We will put information into that when given the chance.

“We have not received an update on that from Defence, it could be some time. It would not be appropriate for us to respond while it is under investigation.”

There were six people on board at the time of the incident, all of them escaped uninjured after the aircraft sustained some damage on the ground but was able to recover and fly back to Fairbairn.

Throughout the bushfire season, the ADF was used to help construct containment lines, and provided staff to assist in air-based operations, engineering support, evacuation support, logistic planning and air intelligence and surveillance.

READ MORE Barr calls on Commonwealth for disaster funding overhaul and support for Namadgi recovery costs

The incident has also led to a compensation claim being made by the ACT Government which is seeking Commonwealth assistance for the restoration of Namadgi and Tidbinbilla.

Current arrangements with the Commonwealth do not allow for disaster funding to be used for environmental restoration, which will leave a substantial hole in the ACT’s budget according to ACT Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr, after 78 per cent of Namadgi and 22 per cent of Tidbinbilla were burnt.

“Despite a number of successful conservation measures put in place to limit the loss of wildlife and sensitive sites in the park, the ecological damage and environmental impact have been extensive,” Mr Barr said.

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan says the ACT will provide evidence to the inquiry when asked to do so. Photo: Dominic Giannini

The ACT Government estimates the total recovery cost will be around $25 million.

Mr Barr has called for an overhaul of the current disaster funding arrangements, saying the scheme’s rollout during the last bushfire season was convoluted and inefficient as support was delayed.

“The 2019-20 bushfire disaster has highlighted that many government systems and structures that have served us well in the past may no longer be suitable for responding to the emergencies this country faces,” Mr Barr said.

READ ALSO ACT narrowly avoided bidding war for firefighting resources

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements’ final report deadline is 28 October, after being pushed back from 31 August.

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