Coroner calls for major change after Black Summer fires

The NSW coroner says it was remarkable more lives were not lost to the Black Summer bushfires.

The NSW coroner says it was remarkable more lives were not lost to the Black Summer bushfires. Photo: AAP

New rules for the use of firefighting aircraft, better alert systems and remodelling risk classifications are among the recommendations from a coronial inquiry into the Black Summer bushfires.

The inquiry examined 25 deaths across 46 fires in NSW.

The 700-page report delivered on Wednesday is more than two years in the making and builds on the work of multiple earlier inquiries.

NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan said the 2019-20 bushfire season, which came to be known as Black Summer, was without doubt one of the most catastrophic on record.

“It was unprecedented in scale and intensity,” she told the Lidcombe Coroner’s Court on Wednesday.

“The sheer scale and ferocity of the fires burning simultaneously meant resources were stretched across the state … it is remarkable the loss of life was not even higher,” she said.

The 28 recommendations are directed towards the commissioners of the NSW rural fire service and police, and the chief executive of state-owned infrastructure company Essential Energy.

Hearings were held across NSW including in Queanbeyan, Lismore, Armidale, Taree, Cooma and Katoomba.

O’Sullivan reiterated the purpose of the inquiry was not to assign blame as she delivered her findings.

There were a range of causes for the bushfires including power lines, lightning strikes and out-of-control backburning.

One fire, which ultimately destroyed 10 homes, was started by a farmhand using a welder to fix a metal fence post on a drought-ravaged farm in central western NSW, the inquiry was told.

That fire went on to burn for 58 days across more than 17,000 hectares.

The Black Summer fires burned through more than 5.5 million hectares in NSW alone.

The inquest also heard only 10 out of 130 fire investigators were available at any one time during the 2019-20 season.

The coronial inquiry followed separate inquiries, including one commissioned by the Berejiklian state government, which recommended landowners be obliged to conduct more hazard-reduction burns on their properties and take an active role in bushfire preparation.


Topics: Black Summer
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