Time to rethink fire strategies

Farmer and a mayor are calling for better fire management plans

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After losing hundreds of mango trees, dodging road blocks and haggling over green zones, Robert Sikes thinks the time is right for a change in fire management

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Robert Sikes saved his farm but thinks the fire which destroyed more than 700 mango trees and irrigation might have been avoidable with better land management.

Robert Sikes saved his farm but thinks the fire which destroyed more than 700 mango trees and irrigation might have been avoidable with better land management.

COBRABALL farmer Robert Sikes prevailed in his stoush with nature a fortnight ago and will "celebrate" with a tilt at unravelling red tape he believes hinders fire fighting strategies.

Mr Sikes, backed by family and neighbours armed with hoses and access to water supplies, saved a considerable portion of horticultural land as fire roared through hilly, vegetated areas towards Bungundarra.

Despite their work, the Sikes lost more than 700 mango trees along with irrigation and damage estimates range as high as $200,000.

Mr Sikes believes the recent fire emergency sounded an ominous warning he hopes will be heard and heeded in Brisbane.

"We fought a fire that I think was very unnecessary," Mr Sikes said.

"There are areas on three sides of our little farm where the fuel was thick and was an accident waiting to happen because there has been a prohibition on back-burning.

"We do what we can on the farm but there are green zones that go unchecked and are thick with lantana and that's what fed the fire.

"Soon enough the lantana will regrow and we will be back in the very same position. We're conservationists and don't want to level all of the trees but a commonsense approach to clearing the undergrowth would be a good start.

"It would also be helpful if people out in the bush and those on the ground were making decisions because doing it from a Brisbane office isn't working too well.

"I've had politicians out since the fire and they've nodded and agreed with me but whether something changes is up in the air. I can only hope so and I will keep pushing."

Mr Sikes also believes regulations surrounding the movement of residents and volunteers should be flexible.

"I'm not advocating people go here, there and everywhere once a fire emergency is called," he said. "But the roadblocks were a real problem, especially for those who stayed and defended their properties.

"Under the rules, if you leave you cannot return until the all clear is given and by then it could be far too late. The blocks also meant people could not get refreshments or food through to the people fighting the fires."

A supportive Livingstone Shire Council mayor Bill Ludwig said the scale, intensity and frequency of natural disasters were increasing.

"While we will never be able to totally eliminate the risks presented by wildfires, a rolling five-10 year integrated bush fire risk management plan including annual maintenance funding for fire-trails and strategic fire breaks would drastically reduce overall fire risk levels," Councillor Ludwig said.

Other measures including mapping, installing and maintaining additional fire breaks and expansion of existing cool-burn programs would be a "common-sense and well-placed investment", he said.

Gregory MP Lachlan Millar, the State's Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers, said it was "high time" government leaders accepted farmers and producers were more strategically placed to manage the land than those in Brisbane.

"Rest assured an LNP government would move with haste to hand land management back to the people who know best, the people who have been on the ground for generations," Mr Millar said.

"This silliness around green zones was widely criticised when the government came up with its blue-dot mapping earlier in the year and the reticence to control undergrowth has contributed to these latest disasters.

"It is high time for a change of thinking but I am afraid it won't come from the Palaszczuk government."

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