Australians call for swift response to bushfires report

15:11, July 31, 2010      

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Australian communities affected by the Black Saturday and Gippsland bushfires were demanding swift action in response to the Victoria Bushfires Royal Commission's final report.

The Commission on Saturday handed down 67 recommendations including a call for the existing stay-or-go policy to be tweaked to allow for a "comprehensive approach to evacuation" and an almost quadrupling of controlled burning.

It also called for a long-term strategy to replace many of Victoria's ageing overhead powerlines with underground cables, a program of voluntary acquisition for homes in high-risk areas and the establishment of an independent Victorian fire commissioner.

Victorian state premier John Brumby said the release of the report will be difficult for survivors and those who lost loved ones in the fires, and he has called on the wider community to throw its support behind fire-affected communities.

"I think it's important for all Victorians, indeed all Australians, to recognise, to acknowledge, to understand the trauma, the hurt, the pain that all of those families, their friends and their extended families will be feeling today," Brumby told ABC News.

Brumby said it is important for the Government to consider its response to the report carefully.

"As premier I feel the full weight of responsibility to make sure that we get our response to the Commission's report right to make sure we make our state as safe as possible," he said.

"The people of our state want the opportunity to have some input."

The communities affected by the bushfires have been spending Saturday's afternoon examining the report. Copies were delivered to the communities and hubs have been set up in some areas to give survivors the chance to read the findings in a supportive environment.

Lyn Gunter, the mayor of Murrindindi when the Black Saturday fires swept through the shire, said there are some "gaps" in the final report.

"I'm encouraged but I don't think it's enough," Gunter told ABC News. "The major gaps are going to be the communications, the safer places and the identification of those.

"And it's about knowing these are going to be implemented. People want the confidence to know these recommendations and the recommendations for their safety are going to be implemented."

Liz Amos, from Buxton near Marysville, said the local community is looking for swift action on the Commission's findings, and that she was concerned about whether smaller towns, with only one road in and one road out, would be able to evacuate if a major fire hit.

In Gippsland, communities have welcomed the recommendation for better cooperation between the fire agencies. John Arkinstall from the Bushfire Recovery Committee at Churchill said people will need time to absorb the massive report.

"There's a few of them (recommendations) that are very good," he said. "Some of the ones that talk about developing standards for community refuges and acknowledging personal shelters around homes as a fall-back option for people is a really good idea."

A total of 173 people were killed and thousands were left homeless when bushfires swept across state of Victoria on February 7, 2009.

Source: Xinhua


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