Farmers in a remote Victoria town are rallying around a machinery operator who battled the Black Summer fires, and is now being investigated for alleged illegal native vegetation clearing during fire-mitigation work.
Bendoc is Victoria’s most remote town, about 500 kilometres east of Melbourne, with its closest services over the border in New South Wales.
During the 2019-20 fires, the town was twice ordered to evacuate as fire threatened the region.
Some locals criticised the government fire authority’s management of these fires as inadequate. They said local knowledge was ignored and the authority failed to take preventative actions such as backburns to protect the area.
Community anger grew when Bendoc machinery contractor Danny Jamieson, who helped battle the fires, was interviewed on February 9 by Victoria’s conservation regulator, which alleged he had been involved in illegal native vegetation removal.
Mr Jamieson was advised in January that he would be investigated.
Mr Jamieson said had been a contractor to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) for about 15 years, but that contract had now been suspended.
Mr Jamieson said the issue stemmed back to January 4, 2020, when government fire crews left town and headed to New South Wales.
The town was under an evacuation order, threatened by the fire which had all but wiped out the East Gippsland coastal town Mallacoota just days before.
Mr Jamieson said he was shocked to hear paid firefighters were retreating over the border, leaving volunteer firefighters and himself to defend the town.
Mr Jamieson went to work on his bulldozer and other large machines, cleaning up tree tinder around the town and cutting fire breaks or mineral earth lines, designed to slow the run of a fire.
“I just cleaned the understory up — anything that was going to burn, that was dead and dry we packed them in a heap,” he said.
“What catches you out is the embers (hitting) the fuel on the ground.”
Bendoc Country Fire Authority first lieutenant Eddie Sellers said he couldn’t believe paid firefighters left, but that Mr Jamieson had worked hard to protect both private and public land.
The fires threatened the town again in February and burnt plantations on the east of the town. A local farmer lost 44 head of cattle and several landholders were burnt out.
During this time Mr Jamieson said he used his bulldozers on his farm to cut fire breaks to help stop the fire, which came within two kilometres metres of the town.
He said he also put his machines over the fence on Crown land, and pushed dry heaps of timber and bark to reduce the fuel on the ground.
Months later he went back to tidy this area up.
It’s this area, near Crawfords Track, where it’s alleged he cleared native vegetation on Crown land, which is also a special protection zone for the greater glider.
A spokeswoman for the conservation regulator — part of DELWP — said she couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation.
Mr Jamieson said he was cleaning up dry tinder which could be burnt in the cooler months to protect private and public land from future bushfires.
He said he was “gobsmacked” by the allegations.
Mr Jamieson said he felt aggrieved because right next to the area where the conservation regulator claims he cleared vegetation, he claims DEWLP staff had pushed over trees to conduct a planned burn.
“They’ve pushed out trees the greater glider lives in … I’ve just cleaned up the rubbish on the floor — not pushed out living trees,” he said.
CFA volunteer Eddie Sellers said he was “disgusted” with the allegations against Mr Jamieson, who he said did more to help the region than the fire crews who were brought into town.
The fifth-generation farmer said government authorities mismanaged the Black Summer fires, refusing to listen to local knowledge, and could have stopped the fire when it started in November 2019 near Bonang.
“They had it down to two small spot fires on the northern side which the plans could have taken out easily, but it was let run,” Mr Seller said.
“It went from Bonang to Marlo, back through Mallacoota to Combienbar then back here.”
Another Bendoc CFA volunteer, Ian Cole, said Mr Jamieson should be applauded for his work.
“Danny certainly shouldn’t be charged for doing what we all considered to be a common sense approach to fighting fires,” he said.
A DEWLP spokewoman said the 2019-20 fires were reviewed in a Federal Royal Commission and the Inspector-General for Emergency Management’s independent review of the Victorian fire season.
In this response a Victorian government spokesperson agreed the “emergency management sector (should rely) on robust information, data and intelligence to inform decisions across all tiers (local, regional and state) and phases of an emergency”.
Thank you for dropping by My Local Pages and reading this article involving “What’s On in the Goulburn Murray Region called “Bendoc grader driver investigated for clearing vegetation during Black Summer fires”. This news update was shared by My Local Pages Australia as part of our Australian events & what’s on local stories services.
#Bendoc #grader #driver #investigated #clearing #vegetation #Black #Summer #fires