Flamin’ angry

By Rodney Woods

Longwood volunteer firefighters are in a fiery spat with CFA's District 22 headquarters after accusing headquarters of not letting them undertake controlled burns to protect the town from fire.

“We’re concerned about Longwood,” volunteer firefighter Richard Naughton said.

“We usually burn right around the town and the CFA have put some restrictions on us.

“That’s (controlled burns) how we try and keep the fires out of Longwood because the brigade takes pride in keeping the Longwood community safe.

“The fuel loads are building on the roads and everywhere around the area.”

Mr Naughton could not comprehend why the CFA would make them go out on a Code Red day but not let them do control burns to reduce the fire risk.

“One of the things that annoys us is the CFA send us out on the worst day Victoria can produce weather-wise for fires, yet they won't trust us to burn around the town to protect our community.”

Fellow firefighter John Brodie Jr said the restrictions were unreasonable.

“Their handbook says it has to be under 32 degrees, has to be this type of wind and this type of day and four days afterwards have to be the same condition,” he said.

“This is completely unreasonable and we viewed that as a condition they put in place purely to stop us from burning.”

In response, a CFA spokesperson said a permit was issued but the brigade did not burn-off before the weather worsened.

“A Schedule 12 Permit to Burn by Brigades, the only one in District 22, was issued for the Longwood brigade during the Fire Danger Period for its annual ‘town burn’,” the spokesperson said.

“Unfortunately, the brigade waited for several days after this advice, so when they wanted to burn, weather conditions were not in prescription and approval was not given by the rostered district duty officer on the day.”

The spokesperson also said District 22 headquarters had offered to work with the brigade and fund alternative fuel reduction strategies such as slashing, but these offers have not been taken up by the brigade.

Mr Brodie said as volunteers they could not complete the controlled burns at the drop of a hat and that slashing was not an option.

“Firstly, we as members of the Longwood community and as volunteers have jobs that require our full attention during weekdays,” he said.

“We make sacrifices to respond to fires in emergency situations during weekdays, however planned events such as the town burn are conducted on weekends in order to maximise the opportunity for everyone to be involved and to reduce the interference to our work whilst making the town a safer place for the community.

“Secondly, we have found that a one-off slashing for fire prevention is not a feasible alternative to burning, because it does not reduce the fuel load.

“However if the areas were to be consistently slashed all year round and kept clear of branches and debris, as is done around the recreation reserve in Longwood, then perhaps it would be a possible alternative.”

The Longwood firefighters have the backing of State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan, who is calling on the Victorian Government to recommit to a five per cent annual fuel reduction burning target.

Ms Ryan said the devastating fires this season had highlighted the error of Labor’s decision to abandon planned burning recommendations from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.