This region is confronted with a worse fire safety scenario than last year’s horror season, with warnings of “significant concerns for community safety”.
This region is confronted with a worse fire safety scenario than last year’s horror season, with warnings of “significant concerns for community safety”.

The region facing its worst ever fire season

THE Gold Coast is facing a worse fire-safety scenario than the horror that engulfed the hinterland last year.

The council cannot push forward with its crucial upgraded bushfire management plan to shield thousands of at-risk properties because the State Government has withdrawn support.

Councillor Peter Young took photographs on his first night out as a volunteer with the Guanaba Rural Fire Brigade fighting the Springbrook fire late last month.
Councillor Peter Young took photographs on his first night out as a volunteer with the Guanaba Rural Fire Brigade fighting the Springbrook fire late last month.

Details from a new report - discussed privately by councillors - show the shocking safety outcome for residents after the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services refused to extend its contract with the city.

The report warns there are now "significant concerns for community safety" because it will take time for the council to find a replacement contractor capable of providing the on-the-ground expertise.

Councillor Peter Young taking photographs out on his first night as a volunteer with the Guanaba Rural Fire Brigade fighting the Springbrook fire.
Councillor Peter Young taking photographs out on his first night as a volunteer with the Guanaba Rural Fire Brigade fighting the Springbrook fire.

Councillor Peter Young, who joined rural volunteers in fighting the most recent Springbrook fire, says the contract dispute could not have occurred at a worse time.

"There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever the conditions are worse, and worsening," he said.

"The information I've seen within the brigade is very bleak (about weather, fuel loads and wind). The fire at Springbrook a couple of weeks ago hadn't been burnt for a long time there. It was intense. We were backburning. Some guy had lit a fire on his property and it got out of control. It was erupting in flames, really hot and moved relatively quickly. I expect there are huge areas in a similar condition."

Guanaba Rural Fire Brigade truck being used to fight Springbrook fire in late August 2020.
Guanaba Rural Fire Brigade truck being used to fight Springbrook fire in late August 2020.

The officer's report outlined how the council has been running a successful hazard burn reduction program with the State Government since 2007.

Between 10 and 14 burns are conducted each year, attacking about 25 per cent of the mapped hazard area, much of it steep bushy terrain near homes.

Because the contract between the government and council will end, the following "growth proposals" in bushfire prevention have stalled:

* To have two burn teams operating together during winter.

* To increase the length of the fire trail network improving maintenance where fire trucks can get access.

* To increase the number of firefighting water tanks in remote areas.

* To improve community education and update technology like mapping.

The report reveals the options were not started "especially given that several of the growth proposals would take two to three years to fully implement".

Binna Burra Lodge reopens — but backburning is a reminder of the threat bushfires pose. Picture Glenn Hampson.
Binna Burra Lodge reopens — but backburning is a reminder of the threat bushfires pose. Picture Glenn Hampson.

In February, councillors wanted council to employ a permanent backburning team to help prevent a repeat of last year's horrific bushfires in the hinterland.

Fire destroyed 11 homes and the historic Binna Burra Mountain Lodge and its cabins.

Updated council mapping shows about 51,051ha, or 37 per cent, of the Coast region is judged to be a very high, high or medium bushfire hazard.

Another 26,329ha, about 19 per cent, is within a 100m potential impact buffer of the hazard.

At the time, Fire and Emergency services Minister Craig Crawford said the QFES would honour its contract - it was to expire in June 2022 - but did not plan to re-tender for the work.

Cr Young said experienced firies agree the fire threat on the Coast would become worse due to the large amount of bushland near homes and the heat increases caused by global warming.

While he understands the council's position in not collecting a fire levy, the fear among brigades and residents is there will not be enough funding for this bigger threat.

"It's important we ramp up that conversation leading into a State Government election," Cr Young said.

Binna Burra Lodge in ruins after fire. Picture: NIGEL HALLETT.
Binna Burra Lodge in ruins after fire. Picture: NIGEL HALLETT.

Mayor Tom Tate told the Bulletin: "I can confirm I have written to the Premier (about the contract dispute) and am awaiting a response. I also wrote to the Leader of the Opposition who has confirmed that they would work with us to negotiate a new contract for QFES so this important work can continue. I welcome that news."

Mr Crawford told the Bulletin: "Every Rural Fire Service member is highly valued by the Government and by QFES, especially during these extraordinary times.

"The Gold Coast Rural Fire Service Levy is a matter for council. Gold Coast Council haven't reached out to the Minister to discuss their concerns with the RFS, and made the decision to cut this funding on their own."

Mudgeeraba-based councillor Glenn Tozer acknowledged the government announcement this week to budget $47 million to rural brigades in 2020-21.

"There's no doubt more is needed to meet the capital and operational needs of rural brigades across the state but a 20 per cent increase is a move in the right direction," he said.

Ruins of Binna Burra Lodge after bushfires devastated the hinterlands. Photo: Kirstin Payne
Ruins of Binna Burra Lodge after bushfires devastated the hinterlands. Photo: Kirstin Payne

But Cr Tozer supports "a more collaborative and strategic funding model" for rural services working together to keep homes safe covering new units and operational expenses.

"I would support a levy for ratepayers that delivers that, giving them peace of mind about the activity of RFS volunteers who work so hard for our community," he said.

"Most importantly, a return to a council and State collaborative approach on bushfire hazard reduction programming is critical and must be considered by any incoming state government after the election.

"Frankly, that should be on the cards now and I expect the Bushfire Royal Commission might say as much. We need to be on the front foot, working together."

Originally published as Exclusive: Gold Coast facing worst ever fire season



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