Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Early efforts to fight a fire sparked by Defence explosives training were hampered because it was considered dangerous to send fire crews onto a live firing range, the NSW Rural Fire Service has revealed.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said on Thursday morning that fire crews were working in the area but could not get onto the training range at Marrangaroo for fear of unexploded ordnance.
"You can't send firefighters or firetrucks into a live firing range, nor can you put aircraft above or in close proximity to assist in waterbombing," he said.
"Firefighters were working in and around the army range with a view to trying to deal with that fire the day before it ran, and indeed the day that it did run."
He was speaking after the RFS revealed that its investigation had found that a live-fire exercise at Marrangaroo range near Lithgow was as suspected the cause of the State Mine fire, which ripped through more than 47,000 hectares of bushland in the Blue Mountains last week.
Defence has refused to confirm that finding.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons stressed, however, that the Defence Department had been co-operative.
"I know, like anyone would expect, we would all after any event review what happens and how it happens and where appropriate may even seek to adjust or modify any strategies to mitigate anything like this happening ever again."
A Rural Fire Service spokesman said the blaze had destroyed three homes, damaged one other and burnt down seven sheds or businesses.
There was no total fire ban in the area when the Defence exercised were conducted.
Acting Defence Minister George Brandis says he's spoken to the Acting Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, about the matter.
"The Australian government and the Australian Defence Force take this issue very seriously and continue to fully cooperate with the New South Wales authorities, including the New South Wales Police, who are investigating the fire," Senator Brandis said in a statement.
Fairfax Media can also reveal that army ranges across Australia are failing to develop bushfire plans in accordance with Defence rules. A source with close knowledge of army training area management said Defence brass knew of the shortcomings in setting up bushfire plans but had not acted because of a lack of resources.
"There is just an amazingly casual approach to the whole thing, with no mitigation plans in place at all," the source, who requested anonymity, said. "They have known for a couple of years that these plans don't exist but they don't do anything about it because there is no money. They are supposed to have site-specific fire management plans."
Army personnel who expressed concern about the lack of fire management plans had been told "don't worry … we will get to it", the source said. But leaked internal Defence correspondence, seen by Fairfax Media, indicates that Defence's Directorate of Training Area Management knew that ranges across Australia had failed to implement bushfire plans, even though such plans were demanded in a 2011 fire protection manual.
With Sarah Whyte, AAP