AS A large pall of smoke drifted into the ACT from the NSW fires, questions were again being raised on Saturday as to just how prepared Canberra is for the coming bushfire season.
As the Sunday Canberra Times reports, ACT authorities are struggling to maintain the 4500-kilometre network of fire trails in the vast national park to the city's west, Namadgi.
According to Territory and Municipal Services, several bridges already used this season to extinguish early fires are now impassable, and a number of other access trails are in poor condition.
Despite the city's transient nature, many Canberrans will remember all too well that impassable fire trails were one of the contributing factors that prevented firefighters from controlling blazes during the 2003 conflagration that destroyed 500 homes.
The areas of bush that the ACT government is required to maintain are extensive, and there has been a concerted effort to increase the number of controlled burns. However, it appears that damage caused by a 2010 storm is yet to be fully repaired. This could suggest that resources are not sufficient for the task.
Some of those who lost homes in 2003 have already expressed their exasperation to this newspaper at the situation, and authorities readily admit they could do more if they were given greater resources.
Namadgi, which adjoins Kosciuszko and other national parks, is steep, rugged and difficult terrain to access. Yet it appears the responsibility for maintaining this vast, difficult area falls on the shoulders of a few hundred thousand ACT residents.
Fires do not recognise state and territory borders. The task of maintaining and defending this significant area should be a regional one, not a territory activity.
During interviews with The Canberra Times earlier this year, several senior firefighters, including Peter Dunn who led the ACT's emergency services efforts immediately after the 2003 disaster, said many of the lessons learnt from that year were being forgotten.
There was a long, difficult period of reflection following 2003 that resulted in several comprehensive reports on how our bushfire preparedness needed to be improved. Rather than wait for another disaster, it's time to revisit those recommendations, assess where failings still exist, and embark on change.
We can never expect to be 100 per cent safe from bushfires, given our location. What we can do is ensure we are doing everything in our power to act on the lessons of the past, to minimise the risks.