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1/1/02...Koperberg dismisses burn-off, Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Koperberg dismisses burn-off

By Robert Wainwright

The Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Phil Koperberg, has dismissed as 'emotive hysteria' claims that government authorities were stopping hazard reduction burns during winter.

He countered claims that the National Parks and Wildlife Service was hindering bushfire prevention, revealing that authorities had burnt 600,000 hectares over the past 12 months - a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.

He said authorities were also considering ways of streamlining decision-making by the 120 local management committees across the state to
avoid 'blockages'.

'There is a lot of hysteria about hazard reduction. It is always an emotive issue but the suggestion emanating that the Government does not subscribe to hazard reduction is wrong," he said.

'Conversely, we don't just burn anything. We are not about scorched earth policy; you don't want to get to a point where every square inch of bush in NSW is burned every couple of years.

'There is no denying that hazard reduction, in the right place, will retard the speed of the fire in most normal conditions.'

But Mr Koperberg said the fires had been sparked by abnormal conditions, such as the recent high winds, and that no amount of hazard reduction could have stopped them.

'I've seen hazard-reduced areas where the fires have simply carried through. I mean, fires even leapt Warragamba Dam," he said.

Mr Koperberg believed that Sydney's sandstone topography also made fire 'The nature of Hawkesbury sandstone, upon
which Sydney is based, is difficult because it means the vegetation is very dry and the root systems shallow. That's why so many trees blow over in severe winds,' he said.

Mr Koperberg said the Government was eager to stop blockages by the local management committees.

'The Government position is that if people propose hazard reduction and find it frustrated [by] the committee system then we will look at those blockages," he said. The committee system was established in the wake of the 1994 bushfires. Each committee has community representatives as well as land management authorities, such as councils and the NPWS, and police and environmental groups. It is their task to prepare hazard-reduction programs each year, exhibit them for public comment and then approve the work.

Mr Koperberg said of the 20 major fires being fought across the state, at least 12 were known to have been started by arsonists.

'Put it this way: there was no lightning strike, no reports of accidental fires and no car accidents in the areas, so we have very strong suspicions they were deliberately lit," he said.

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