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AFAC Independent Operational Review of the 2018-19 bushfires


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Gell River Fire update 8 January 2019 9.00am


A fire is burning within the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, to the north of the Denison Range and through the Vale of Rasselas. The fire was ignited by a lightning storm that crossed the state on the evening of 27 December 2018.

Parks and Wildlife Service responded to the lightning event by sending a spotter flight over the affected area, where two fires in the proximity of the Gell River were identified (Gell River fire and Battlement Hills fire, which later merged). Staff were mobilised and an Incident Management Centre was established at Strathgordon.

Helicopters were sent to relocate bushwalkers from the affected area and walking tracks were closed. Firefighters were also mobilised onto the fire ground and water bombing of the fire was undertaken.

Current situation

The fire has so far burnt 20,500 ha and is burning largely buttongrass and some transitional vegetation (scrub), in steep and rugged terrain. The southernmost extent of the fire is approximately 10  km northwest of Tim Shea. The eastern boundary has reached the top of the Gordon Range in places, where it has burnt up the drier ridgelines. There are also some hotspots over the Gordon Range, in the Florentine Valley. Sustainable Timbers Tasmania is currently working to extinguish hot spots in this area.

The western boundary has burnt up the buttongrass slopes into the Denison Range around Lake Rhona and other alpine lakes before self-extinguishing on the ridge tops. There is a sprinkler line at Lake Rhona, which is protecting the fire-sensitive vegetation. Ground crews and water bombing aircraft have been protecting these communities in other alpine areas also.

The fire remains uncontained but the milder weather has reduced fire behaviour. A specialist NSW Rural Fire Service helicopter is providing infrared scanning to identify hot spots for water bombing and on the ground firefighting activities, as well as accurate fire boundary information.

Under the current weather conditions and relatively high soil moistures the fire is not burning through wet forest or peat. Crews and water bombing aircraft have been making good progress over the last few days and many active fire edges have been minimised. The forecast for High to Very High fire dangers for the area this Friday may once again increase fire activity.

There are a number of fire-sensitive World Heritage Values present in the area, including the alpine plateau above Lake Rhona and areas of mixed forest and temperate rainforest. Specific World Heritage Values at risk from the fire include pencil pines, king billy pines, peat soils and cushion plants. There are also cultural heritage sites at Gordonvale, Adamsfield and Mount Wright.

Parks and Wildlife Service, along with Tasmania Fire Service and Sustainable Timber Tasmania, is working hard to contain the fire and minimise the damage to these fire-sensitive communities and the potential for damage to critical civil infrastructure.

New methods of fire suppression are being trialled, including the use of aerial applied, long-term retardant, which was used on January 3rd in an attempt to establish a fire break and try to prevent the fire impacting the Lake Rhona area.  Additional methods being trialled include sprinkler systems, which have been established around the high value, fire-sensitive assets (rainforest and alpine) in the Lake Rhona area. Firefighters on the ground are also being aided by the use of foam suppressants.

The use of firefighting suppressants and retardants in the World Heritage Area has been recently examined and the potential impacts assessed. As a result, guidelines for application of these products within the World Heritage Area have been developed, with any potential impact from the chemicals weighed up against the potential threat from the fire.

The State Government has not hesitated in supporting the use of the best available technology in remote area firefighting through the utilisation of large air tankers and retardant. This investment is being made as part of the effort to protect the Outstanding Universal Values within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

There are currently over 60 personnel and nine helicopters allocated to fighting the fire, with Incident Management Centres established at Strathgordon and Cambridge.

The current fire boundary can be found on the TFS website at:  http://www.fire.tas.gov.au/Show?pageId=colGMapBushfires