Probe into attack on alpine fire

AN INVESTIGATION will be carried out into the handling of the first 24 hours of the Harrietville fire.

It will be part of a four-point recovery plan to be revealed to alpine residents at Porepunkah this afternoon.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment has been criticised by many for not putting the fire out quickly.

The blaze has burnt out tens of thousands of hectares since a lightning strike on January 21.

Criticism has focused on the department’s standing down of CFA crews that evening when the fire had destroyed about five hectares of bush.

But the department said crews had to be pulled out that first night because the rocky terrain made it too dangerous for its firefighters and that the fire remained contained that next morning.

Deputy Premier and Bushfires Response Minister Peter Ryan will reveal the recovery plan for the alpine region at Boynton’s Winery on the Great Alpine Road.

The meeting is set to be attended by up to 100 people, including business and tourism operators and those who criticised the initial fire fight.

Mr Ryan was invited to the area by Benalla MP Bill Sykes, who said yesterday he had spoken to a lot of people in the region about the blaze.

“There has been a consistent concern about those first 24 hours of the fires,” Dr Sykes said.

He said Mr Ryan would reveal a “listen and engage” program to help Alpine residents’ recovery.

That would comprise the investigation, the continued need to keep the Great Alpine Road open, tourism recovery and providing support through tourism events.

Dr Sykes said he had received about 15 emails and up to 30 personal representations from people concerned about the initial handling of the blaze.

But he said it was crucial people provided first-hand accounts of what they saw.

Dr Sykes said rumours heard down at the local pub would not help.

“If you have any factual information put it in writing to me or to (DSE regional director) Peter Farrell and those concerns will be investigated,” he said.

Dr Sykes said Mr Farrell met concerned Harrietville residents about 10 days ago and was willing to take part in another similar session.

It had to be remembered the department was continuing to tackle the fire.

He said it was extremely encouraging the Great Alpine Road between Harrietville, Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain had now been opened to people who work in the area.

“That’s a great effort,” he said.

“We need to get people back up here as soon as possible.”

The meeting will follow Mr Ryan’s launch of the Alpine Shire Community Resilience Plan at Rosewhite at 1.40pm.

Peter Ryan.

Peter Ryan.