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Environment, Government NSW

Hard questions remain after the Black Summer bushfire coronial

Independent Bushfire Group 3 mins read

The Independent Bushfire Group is shocked that after more than four years, there is still no comprehensive and expert review of the worst fires ever in NSW.


“We respect the good work done by the coroner but there are acknowledged limits to what the coronial process can do.”


“We live in a worsening fire climate. Overall, the disaster-inquiry-disaster cycle is a broken model and does not deliver on the operational lessons needed for next time. The disaster review system is letting down firefighters and traumatised communities,” IBG Convenor Geoffrey Luscombe said.


“NSW needs an ongoing and independent capability for reviewing and improving disaster operations, like the Inspectors General of Emergency Management that Victoria and Queensland created a decade ago.”


“The Disasters Royal Commission after Black Summer recommended exactly that, but NSW has ignored it.”


“With the huge workload on fire ‘cause & origin’ and loss of lives and property, the coronial could only ever act within its jurisdiction on 41 fires out of the thousands of fire incidents in Black Summer could only scratch the surface of firefighting operations.”


“Vital insights for improving bushfire operations are still missing. Many tactics and strategies worked well but without proper reviews and publishing the lessons learned, firefighters are not getting the most out of what could be an open learning processes.”


“There’s so much to learn from the Black Summer fires, about what worked well and what needs to change. Here we are four fire seasons down the track into our worsening fire climate, and there still is no comprehensive independent and expert analysis of the fires and how they were managed.”


“The only detailed examination of any Black Summer fire has been done by independent researchers, such as the IBG. The agencies won’t do it, the NSW Bushfire Inquiry didn’t, and the coroner can’t do the heavy lifting. The huge efforts of so many volunteers and paid firefighters were too often let down by the system and deserve better”.


“NSW disaster review processes needs a complete overhaul. We need to stop ignoring the recommendation of the Royal Commission by establishing a sufficiently resourced, expert and independent Inspector General for Emergency Services. The government must act now,” Mr Luscombe concluded.


The IBG says many questions that came up in the coronial remain unresolved by any investigation such as:


  • Many fires started as lightning strikes in remote bushland. Some were put out but others burned on to become the worst disasters. What made the difference and what new operational systems are needed to make sure the majority of future lightning ignitions are put out when they are small?
  • The Gospers Mountain fire was not declared as a major incident under section 44 of the Rural Fires Act until 16 days after it started when it was out of control. This meant Gospers could not compete against other going fires for the resources needed to put it out soon after lightning ignition. It went on to become the largest forest fire ever seen in NSW and vastly increased the scale of the Black Summer bushfire emergency. Have new risk assessment processes for competing fires been developed? Would this prevent a future Gospers scenario from happening?
  • The Ruined Castle fire in the Blue Mountains was contained, until a Large Air Tanker drop blew it over the line. What has been learnt from that? What mix of aircraft would have worked better? How effective have the very expensive LATs been and in what circumstances?
  • There a delay of many hours in putting firefighters on the ground at the Green Wattle Creek fire when it could have been put out while it was small and burning in mild conditions. Has the delay been investigated and what has been done to improve timely response to future lightning ignitions?
  • Some fires were contained or slowed by backburning operations. However other fires were significantly expanded and accelerated by backburns that escaped. The NSW Bushfire Inquiry requested detailed research into this issue but years later only a still secret pilot study has been done. Has there been any comprehensive analysis to understand what made the difference? What has been learned to ensure the majority of future backburns are successful?


Contact details:

IBG Convenor Geoffrey Luscombe, 0418 238 097,

IBG Secretary Ian Brown, 0428 837 106,

IBG member Gregor Manson, 0408 848 250,

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