As the third anniversary of the Wambelong bushfire quickly approaches, the lengthy Coronial inquiry examining the disaster has concluded.
Deputy State Coroner, Hugh Dillon, handed down his findings on Monday, 28 September, evoking a mixed response from landholders affected by the disaster.
A video link from the Glebe Coroner’s Court was displayed at the Warrumbungle Shire Council chambers in Coonabarabran, allowing more than 70 residents to listen and watch the proceedings in real time.
While Mr Dillon was unable to conclusively determine the cause of the bushfire, evidence gathered during the inquiry does suggest that the fire may have been deliberately lit as there appears to have been two, or possibly three, ignition points.
The Wambelong fire razed more than 56,000 hectares of Warrumbungle National Park and private lands. Within this area, 53 houses and 113 other buildings were destroyed.
Mr Dillon said the incident controllers were facingasituationveryfew people in the world had ever faced.
“Although, with the magnificent 20/20 vision hindsight gives us, it appears to me that a number of aspects of the fire could have been managed better, I have no doubt that the National Parks and Wildlife Service officers involved in this fire acted with utmost good faith and to the best of their ability in the most difficult of circumstances,” Mr Dillon continued.
“While I know it is of little or no comfort to those shattered people who lost properties and stock, that terrible fire will teach lessons that may save human and animal lives in future and, with luck, will reduce the risk of others suffering as badly as the hundreds of people who have been traumatised by this disaster.”
Mr Dillon has made 23 recommendations to the Minister for Emergency Services and Minister for the Environment, which focus on improving fire-prediction systems, communications, hazard reduction and the early deployment of fire-fighting resources.
The NSW Government will now finalise its position on the recommendations put forward during the Parliamentary and Coronial inquiries.
NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Superintendent, Corey Philip, said the Castlereagh RFS welcomed the Coronial findings and conclusions to the event.
“The RFS will work with the Castlereagh Bush Fire Management Committee to implement certain recommendations - in particular, recommendation seven, where the RFS, with Local Government and National Parks and Wildlife Service, look at creating a program or committee for private landowners and local stakeholders,” Spt Philip explained.
“We can come together regularly to share intelligence and consider hazard-management measures for treatments.
“The RFS will also ensure that better public messaging and advice is issued to the public via different communication channels, and ensure timely information with fire updates as circumstances change.”
With the Bushfire Danger Period commencing today, Thursday, 1 October, Spt Philip asked the public not to be complacent.
“Each property owner must ensure they have prepared their property and conducted hazard reduction measures,” he said.
“The RFS can assist with advice to landowners, however, it is their responsibility to ensure works are undertaken, in particular, being prepared when living in a bushfire prone area.”
There were mixed emotions from the public following the conclusion of the Wambelong bushfire Coronial inquiry on Monday, 28 September.