Fireys lost in bushfires: report

A fire authority will implement several recommendations after a damning report found a series of failings in its response to a major bushfire.

A damning report into the handling of the devastating Kangaroo Island bushfires has found a lack of technology and awareness led to some firefighting crews getting lost on the island.

The independent review revealed a series of systemic failings in administration, communication and firefighting procedures impacted the Country Fire Services’ response to the 2019-20 fires.

The “Lessons from the Island” review found a lack of basic items, such as to access electronic mapping, GPS and other situational awareness tools, led to several issues.

These included inadequate situational awareness and shared knowledge between agencies and crews getting lost.

“It is of concern that group officers were being called by the Regional Command Centre to find out who was on KI (Kangaroo Island) from their groups, as the Regional Command Centre had lost track of who and what had been sent on occasion,” the report read.

“In many cases incident management teams were not operating as a team, operations were not feeding intelligence, and therefore planning was not operating with the full picture, incident action plans were being changed each shift, and resource lists were being changed based on opinion rather than evidence.”

It also stated there was a “disproportionate level of attention” given to planning and protecting the Flinders Chase National Park Rocky River Precinct compared with private assets.

“This was in spite of the incident controller outlining, at the community meeting at Parndana on 2 January, that the fire was likely to run through that area,” the report read.

“Should there have been better connection of information across the incident management team in the days leading up to the 3 January and on the day, better resource management could have occurred.”

The CFS commissioned the independent review – conducted by emergency and disaster consultants C3 Resilience – to assist with ongoing operational improvement.

While the report noted some positives, it was clear better resourcing was vital.

“Everyone on the incident management team acted in good faith and tried to assist, however many were limited to their own capability and competence as they were not appropriately trained and accredited in the roles they held,” it read.

The review involved 6359 observations, 522 surveys, 186 face-to-face interviews and 63 individual and group sessions.

There were 24 insights provided and 11 lessons identified.

The CFS will accept all nine recommendations, which include increasing safety and providing training to incident management teams to increase capabilities, competence and relationships.

Chief officer Mark Jones said there were always opportunities to improve and learn in order to better protect the community, properties and the environment in future.

“The 2019-2020 season provided previously unexperienced fire conditions in South Australia, and the CFS was not resourced to cope with two large campaign fires running concurrently in Kangaroo Island and Cudlee Creek,” he said.

“Though our teams on Kangaroo Island tried their hardest to deal with the circumstances they faced, we accept that not everything went as well as we might have hoped.”

Mr Jones reiterated there were predominantly good outcomes from the CFS’ response and paid tribute to all involved.

The fires killed two people, destroyed 87 homes, killed almost 60,000 livestock, damaged 322 vehicles and burned more than 211,000 hectares of land.

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