VAST areas of the South West including outlying Bunbury suburbs could face a “perilous bushfire situation” this summer unless a large fuel load is reduced and organised preparation takes place, according to a leading WA bushfire expert.
Former Department of Conservation and Land Management general manager Roger Underwood made the observations ahead of a coming summer season that he feared could lead to a repeat of catastrophic bushfires that occurred in 1961, which destroyed over half a million hectares and four towns.
“In short we are in the hands of lady luck this summer,” Mr Underwood said.
“Mild weather and we will get away with it – but if there is a prolonged heat wave and a cyclone expect a shocking calamity.”
Mr Underwood and several other bushfire specialists set up a consultancy practice, Bush Fire Front, after his department was merged with the Department of Environment in 2006.
He said the group were especially concerned about large sections of the South West, specifically those bordering or surrounded by bushland and forest.
Harvey, Boyanup, Yarloop, Wagerup and Waroona border state forest.
A spokesperson for The Department of Parks and Wildlife said approximately 21,975 hectares were prescribed burnt and 22 burns completed in the South West last financial year.
“Burning in the south-west forest regions is complex due to the varying nature of vegetation, the high level of fragmentation of department-managed land and the broad array of fire-sensitive values ranging from vineyards, key recreation facilities, town sites, infrastructure and subdivisions,” the spokesperson said.
Mr Underwood said the problem with fire management long-term was that “people have short memories.”
In 2011 a prescribed burn escaped control and tore through thousands of hectares of bushland in the Margaret River district, destroying over thirty-two houses and obliterating the area’s ecosystem and dunescape.
“The lessons of Roleystone, Margaret River, Stoneville and so on are already mostly forgotten,” he said.
“Most of the people I talk to in bushfire prone areas think ‘it will never happen to me’.”