NARROW ESCAPE: Firefighters saved this house in Finch Hatton when fire swept through the region recently.
NARROW ESCAPE: Firefighters saved this house in Finch Hatton when fire swept through the region recently. Emma Murray

Claims some locals vetoed controlled fires in Finch Hatton

THE property destruction, terror and chaos of the Finch Hatton fires last week could have been avoided had there been controlled burns over the past three years, according to the Rural Fire Service's acting regional manager (Central) Andrew Houley.

Planned burns around the Finch Hatton ranges down to Mount Pinnacle had repeatedly received approval by rural fire brigades, fire wardens and national parks representatives and a majority of landowners. But for the past three years they burns have been vetoed by a handful of residents.

Mr Houley said a few residents had been concerned with issues including the levels of smoke, the difficulty of organising and controlling the fire and potential environment effects of controlled burns.

Mr Houley said the controlled burns had to be cancelled, saying, "if two people in the middle don't want to be involved well you can't skip them - they're there. You can't go above them and you can't go below them".

Rather than burning fuel in the cooler months of the year, Finch Hatton was devastated by the roaring fire that tore through the region in the driest, hottest time of the year.

"The more we burn and the more fuel we reduce, the less risk there will be for a bigger fire."

Mr Houley said it was "naivety and ignorance" of these residents that resulted in fire fuel loads reaching a critical mass.

Older land owners have been frustrated by the lack of controlled burns, Mr Houley said, as newly arrived residents "didn't listen to the locals".

While vegetation laws and land clearing policies have been blamed by many, Mr Houley said it was a lack of "communication and collaboration and compromise" that left all Finch Hatton residents vulnerable to bushfires.

He said Finch Hatton suffered from a "broken relationship between residents and (nature) reserves".

A number of conflicts over land management, especially in relation to fire policies, had led to distrust between cattle farms, cane growers, lifestyle blocks and national parks in the region.

The vegetation laws "wisely" protected rare forestry and wildlife but "you will never have a perfect one-size fits all to any legislation".

Residents may complain the laws restrict their ability to defend property but "if people go through the right processes they can work through (the rules)".



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