MEDIA were last night shut out of a community meeting probing the first 72 hours of the Harrietville bushfire.
The forum, hosted by the Victorian emergency services commissioner, was set up to gather feedback about local perceptions of the initial fire fight.
Commissioner Michael Hallowes told two reporters who had travelled to Harrietville for the meeting they would not be allowed to sit in on the community discussion.
He said in the past he’d had experiences of people “grandstanding” in the presence of journalists.
“People have said to us in the past that they feel more comfortable with the media not being here,” Mr Hallowes said.
About 100 Harrietville residents were at the meeting, just fitting into the town’s community hall where they were asked to form small discussion groups.
The commissioner said they had gathered to answer three questions about the first hours of the fire — what worked well, what han’t worked well and what could have been done differently.
At the start of the forum a presentation by Dan Smith, of the commissioner’s office, confirmed the fire was left unmanned on its first night, after being sparked by a lightning strike that afternoon.
Mr Smith said that on the night of January 21 the fire was just two hectares in size and considered contained and controlled.
It was at 11.20am the next morning the fire broke control lines, growing to 58 hectares.
By the afternoon of January 23 it was 1300 hectares in size.
Mr Hallowes said he’d already got the message there needed to be stronger communication between the community and fire- fighting agencies.
“The community wants a new partnership with the agencies so they can work together and be stronger,” he said.
The commissioner’s report on the fire is expected to be presented to the Victorian government by April 30.