Linton Bushfire - December 1998
The Linton bushfire occurred on Wednesday December 2, 1998. The fire was some six kilometres north of Linton, a small town thirty kilometres south-west of Ballarat in western Victoria. It burnt 660 hectares of private and public land. During the evening two CFA tankers became entrapped. One successfully took survival action. The other was destroyed by fire and its crew of five volunteer firefighters perished. Below is a brief summary of the fire and of the subsequent Coronial Inquest.
- was detected in the early afternoon.
- started in long unburnt privately owned forest. Burnt 660 hectares of private/public land and was contained after around 14 hours.
- occurred early in the season. Fire restrictions were not in place.
- was jointly managed by CFA and DEPI, with the CFA acting, by agreement, as the lead agency with a CFA Incident Controller, and a DEPI Deputy Incident Controller.
- resources: CFA 300+ persons, DEPI/Parks Victoria around 100 persons.
- at around 2045 hours two CFA fire tankers became entrapped by the fire. One successfully took survival action. The other was destroyed, with the loss of its five person crew from Geelong West.
- was one of 711 wildfires DEPI attended that season, a relatively low number given the dryness and length of the season.
The Coronial Inquest:
- commenced in mid-July 2000 and hearing of evidence concluded on April 5, 2001. The Inquest then sat for a further two weeks in late June 2001 to deal with formal submissions from the parties.
- examined, to varying degrees of detail, most aspects of forest firefighting in south-eastern Australia. Also examined four other ‘burn-overs’ of CFA vehicles that occurred during the fire.
- sat for 105 days over almost 12 months and heard from 95 witnesses (16 of which were from DEPI/Parks Victoria.).
- resulted in 150+ witness statements being taken.
- saw nine parties represented by legal Counsel. (CFA, Urban and Rural Volunteer Associations, two CFA Geelong Strike Team Officers, owner of the property where the fire started, United Firefighters Union, the families of the five deceased firefighters, DEPI, two CFA volunteer officers, the Bureau of Meteorology).
- resulted in over 12,000 pages of transcript being recorded of Inquest proceedings.
- in mid-September 2000 and following an earlier request from the Coroner, DEPI tabled a 40 page background/position paper on its approach to forest firefighting, and its attitude to various matters before the Inquest.
- at the end of the witness evidence the parties prepared written submissions. Submissions were then circulated among the parties. Hearings were then held for parties to express views on other submissions.
- on January 11, 2002, the State Coroner handed down a 774 page report at Geelong. The report contained 55 recommendations. At a joint media conference later in the day CFA and DEPI undertook to jointly examine the Coroner’s recommendations. Both agencies stressed however that much had changed, since 1998, in the way forest fires were fought in Victoria. The agencies said their examination of the Coroner’s recommendations would focus on identifying positive proposals that went beyond the changes they had already made.
DEPI/CFA initiativesDEPI/CFA initiatives related to the fire/Inquest included:
- a joint CFA/DEPI Operations Review (completed March 1999). Thirty nine recommendations resulted.
- a ‘Safe Forest Firefighting’ document (signed by the CEOs and Chief Fire Officers of both rural fire agencies and tabled at Inquest – August 2000). Committed both agencies to a range of future actions.
- following the completion of the Inquest Hearings DEPI and CFA jointly evaluated matters covered by the Inquest. Subsequently a considerably enhanced formal agreement between the agencies, governing joint operational and related matters, was endorsed by the CEOs of both organisations in December 2001.