Australian Fire Warning System Delayed Over Internal Bickering

The confirmed death toll in the terrible Australian "Black Saturday" brush fires of 7 February has now reached 208. Police feel that they have found most of the victims, and don't believe the death toll will rise much higher.

As is the case in all disasters of this magnitude, there are questions being asked about why it couldnâ''t have been prevented or at least the consequences mitigated. Former Victoria state Supreme Court Justice Bernard Teague has been commissioned to investigate the cause of the fire and how to avoid it being repeated.

No doubt Judge Teague will look into the issue The Australian newspaper raised in regard to Victoria's Auditor-General warning six years ago after the devastating 2003 brush fires that communities in bush fire zones were unprepared for wildfires, that local councils were not doing enough to restrict development, and that there had been a â''consistent failureâ'' by government to properly carry out controlled burning.

In addition, the audit report said that residents in brush fire zones mistakenly believed that they would be warned to evacuate in case of danger. This belief, the report said. could lead to tragic results.

The Australian reported that little had changed since the audit report came out.

The judge will also likely look into the situation that The Australian a day later reported on concerning a warning system that could have been used to â''bombard mobile and fixed bombard mobile and fixed phones with [brush fire] danger messages had been trialled successfullyâ'' by the Australian government a few years ago but it had not been deployed because (a) no one could agree on how to pay the estimated $A20 million cost, and (b) there were other, competing warning systems to the one trialed, that others in government favored.

As a result, no warning system was ever put into place.

The hope now is that there will be some type of warning system in place for next yearâ''s fire season.

Time will tell.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced earlier this week a national day of mourning Sunday to honor the victims of the bush fires and recognize the efforts of emergency workers.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City