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Control line damage restored for landowners
Following major fires across the north-east, CFA approached landholders on more than 150 properties with land or fences damaged by fire suppression measures at major fires during the 2014-15 fire season.
Fence and control line rehabilitation policy states that the Victorian Government will pay 100 per cent of costs for restoration work needed as a result of suppression measures such as control lines created by bulldozers. This work is coordinated by the lead response agency.
During and shortly after the Creightons Creek, Lake Rowan-Warbys and Stewarton fires, CFA teams hit the road to visit affected landowners to ask if they had any damage, and – where this had happened – to offer assistance.
From there CFA took on the task of liaising between landholders and specialist contractors.
Vegetation Management Officer Phil Browne, who led rehabilitation work at Creightons Creek, said CFA members knocking on doors had found residents to be warm and appreciative – though many had been surprised at first to see CFA talking to them about recovery.
“There was a lot of gratitude for what we were doing considering it was a difficult time for them,” he said.
“The residents we are talking to are under a fair bit of stress and are surprised to see us so it has been important for our CFA people to have the right approach,” he said. “It’s a consultative process and a cooperative process”.
Phil said that while many established farmers had turned down the offer of assistance, preferring to undertake works themselves, in many cases CFA was able to help.
“We assessed the damage and talked to landowners and booked in and briefed contractors if that was what residents wanted. A significant percentage of the households we approached had some degree of rehabilitation work done,” said Phil.
“Many were happy to simply to have the damaged land tidied up and left to serve its purpose as a future fire break or track. Where fences had been cut we sometimes offer to install a gate that would allow machinery to pass through in the future.”
Operations Officer Paul Horton said that between Lake Rowan and Stewarton 95 landholders affected by the fire had been contacted. “Less than a week after the fires started fencing materials were being delivered to their door,” he said. “It meant that farmers could sit down with their families on Christmas and Boxing Day knowing that things were being taken care of.”
CFA’s North East Region has led the way in recent years with the way land restoration is carried out, not just from a technical point of view but looking at the best way to work with contractors and property owners.
This has been partly borne from necessity – the north-east having borne the brunt of several major fires over the past two years that affected private land. In February 2014 the Mickleham-Kilmore fire swept through 22,880 hectares and 200 properties sustained damage from fire suppression efforts.
Despite the enormity of the task once again in the current fire season (the north-east dealt with 155 of the nearly 400 fires started by lightning in Victoria over the months of December and January), the region has maintained its focus on developing best practice for CFA as a whole by sharing documents and inviting staff from other regions to participate in rehabilitation work as it happened.
Phil said land rehabilitation could be a complex process with the method used depending on the terrain, geography and soil types. Where possible, the plant operators engaged to rehabilitate control lines are the same ones engaged to create them during the firefight.
“They are familiar with the country and literally come in to ‘cover their tracks’,” he said.
“In open flat country, we will use a grader to redistribute the soil back across the mineral earth break. But in high erosion areas they might look at planting grass or laying straw over the area. The people who come in to do it bring in quite an array of machinery, excavators and Bobcats.”
Operations Officer Paul Horton said that another strong result for the community was the engagement on the ground of some of the local shire councils.
“This allowed CFA and the shires to provide a clear path forward for landowners and many questions were answered and connections made,” he said.