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2013 Harrietville Fire (OESC)

On Monday 21 January 2013 at approximately 2.25pm, a lightning strike at Smoko on the Northwest Spur in the Alpine National Park ignited what has now come to be known as the 'Harrietville fire'.  The Harrietville fire burnt 37 000 ha in the Alpine region and was contained on 27 February 2013.

A Report of the Facts about how the initial response to the fire was managed by the Department of Sustainability and Environment (now the Department of Environment and Primary Industries) and Country Fire Authority, was requested by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services on 27 February 2013.  

The Terms of Reference for the report were:

“To assist in the continuous improvement of the state’s emergency management arrangements, the Minister [for Police and Emergency Services] instructed the Emergency Services Commissioner to report under the provisions of the Emergency Management Act 1986 on the organisation and management of resources for dealing with the first 72 hours of the response to the January 2013 Harrietville fire.

In particular, to report on the facts and establish how the initial stages of the fire were managed.”

The report identified two key themes arising in the concerns expressed by the community:

  • The sufficiency and adequacy of the first and extended attacks.
  • The relationships between local CFA, DEPI and the community.

In respect of the first, the fire escaped on 22 January 2013 because it spotted several hundred metres over the containment lines into a remote, steep and densely vegetated, inaccessible area. There is no information to support a view that any additional weight of attack would have prevented the fire from escaping. Extra resources were only called for when the fire did flare up and escape the initial containment.

With regard to relationships, these had no bearing on how the fire was managed. However, they contributed to an environment at the local level that allowed facts about the effectiveness of the initial response to become distorted. Had these relationships been better, the community may well have been more prepared to understand the challenges presented by fighting this fire on difficult terrain. Similarly, individuals would not have seen fit to allow one of the community’s earliest concerns that “DSE stood down CFA” to have escalated when there was no substance to this proposition.

Continuous Improvement – a shared responsibility

As this is a 'Report of the Facts', it is not appropriate for it to make recommendations.  

However, the report identifies lessons from the Harrietville fire about the management of the initial response that will assist in the continuous improvement of Victoria’s emergency management arrangements.  

These focus on:

  • more rigorous record-keeping of decisions and their rationale by the Fire Services Agencies
  • improving the relationship between DEPI and CFA at the local level
  • closer engagement between DEPI and the local community.

With regard to the latter, DEPI, CFA and the community need to work together to improve their relationships. This will enable a more community-led planning process for fire management. Closer cooperation between DEPI and CFA at the local level will help build that partnership. The objective is to plan together to prevent or minimise the consequences of fires on public land around Harrietville in the future. This is a shared responsibility.

The Emergency Services Commissioner acknowledges the contribution of the communities of Harrietville and the Alpine Shire, and the Fire Services Agencies to this report.

The full report is available below


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Toggle document properties Report of the Harrietville Fire 2013 - PDF - 2MB
Publication Date October 2014

Authorised and published by the Victorian Government.

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