Environmental group’s concern over plantations fire risk 

CLAIMS by environmentalists that forest plantation fires were increasing with climate change have been hosed down by a senior CFA fire officer.

As fire crews monitor smouldering outbreaks that burnt 12,055 hectares in the Kentbruck district and 4500ha near Casterton, Friends of the Earth said almost 80 per cent of fires within Victorian plantations occurred in the past decade.

It warned that if average temperatures continued to increase, so would the severity of fires.

However, Country Fire Authority regional director Bob Barry said the south-west had merely returned to traditional summer conditions.

“These fires were conducive to a normal season after plenty of growth in grasslands and plenty of fuel after many abnormal years,” he said.

“To me it is a normal season. The past eight to 10 years were outside normal fire seasons.

“Victorians will have noticed fire authorities have got on top of blazes pretty quickly using all resources to minimise the risk and losses.

“But it remains a very dangerous occupation.”R

About 700 personnel from the CFA, Department of Sustainability and Environment and plantation companies were involved in fighting the Kentbruck fires which started early January in commercial pine holdings and spread into public forests.

It is now burning slowly in the Cobboboonee State Forest and will be patrolled by a few firefighters until extinguished.

The Casterton fire, which is in scrub, has been deemed no longer a major threat and is also being patrolled.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Anthony Amis said there had been a 690 per cent increase in the loss of state-owned plantations in the past decade and a 1100 per cent increase in private plantations.

“If the plantation industry is to prosper into the future it seriously needs to address climate change,” he said.

pcollins@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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