Ban On Back Burning Led To Death & Destruction on Black Saturday
'Deaths top 200 as critics apply heat' The Courier-Mail, 18/2/2009

The Black Saturday bushfire death toll has topped 200, with 11 new deaths confirmed by police from the savage Kinglake bushfires.

The Kinglake complex, covering a vast section of Victoria's central highlands, now accounts for 139 of the 200 deaths. But the toll at Marysville, which stands at 39, is expected to rise sharply as the search for the remains of missing people continues.

Firefighters say they are getting on top of the fires, with just six major blazes still burning out of control.

"It is getting quieter, yes," a Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman said. "We have got six going fires. That is certainly a break from last week."

Questions continued to be asked yesterday on whether more could have been done to limit the toll. Farmer Lindsay Pump said he could have saved much of Callignee from being razed— if the Government had let him.

As Victorian Premier John Brumby toured the fire-ravaged area yesterday, Mr Pump hit out against the lack of controlled burning and fuel reduction in Gippsland.

Until three years ago, Mr Pump, 54, routinely burned off around the Callignee hall and dozens of neighbouring houses, which were reduced to piles of scrap metal after fire destroyed 90 homes in the area on Black Saturday.

The farmer, who lost almost 40 cattle and 50 goats in the blaze, was often pulled up by the Department of Sustainability for illegal burning, and said he was served with his final warning when three fire trucks showed up to his last fire break.

"I could have saved a lot of places around here but there were too many greenies stopping me," Mr Pump said. "It's just disaster now. A lot of this is the Government's own fault for not burning it. This road up here where the fire came down. I used to burn that and they would come and put it out. And that's turned out to be suicide."

Visiting the Traralgon South recovery centre yesterday, Mr Brumby said the issue of fuel reduction would be examined by the Royal Commission. "The Country Fire Authority were burning as much as they could in difficult conditions last year," he said. The debate over fire bunkers for schools would also be addressed at the commission.