Dry autumn blamed for delayed backburning program last year
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Dry autumn blamed for delayed backburning program last year

The ACT Opposition has accused the Barr government of being "laidback" about safety, with only a fraction of prescribed burns going ahead as planned.

A dry autumn prevented the ACT from completing nearly 7000 hectares of prescribed burning in 2016-17.

Backburning near the Canberra Equestrian Centre in 2012. Just 7 per cent of controlled burning was completed last fiscal year.

Backburning near the Canberra Equestrian Centre in 2012. Just 7 per cent of controlled burning was completed last fiscal year. Credit:Colleen Petch

It meant just 7 per cent of the planned burns were carried out.

So far this year, 1438 of the 8259 hectares has been completed - just 17 per cent.

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An ACT government spokesman said the highly variable weather meant the entire schedule of burns was not able to be carried out every year, and this was factored into their overall bushfire management plan.

Outstanding burns were rolled over into the next year, he said.

But Canberra Liberals emergency services spokeswoman Giulia Jones said dry weather conditions shouldn't be a deterrent, and the government should mobilise its Rural Fire Service and Community Fire Unit to carry out more burns when conditions were favourable.

"Seven per cent is nowhere good enough and shows a laidback attitude of the government towards safety," Mrs Jones said.

But the government spokesman said ACT Parks had trained fire behaviour analysts who analyse weather and fuel conditions to determine suitable opportunities to implement prescribed burns.

"Conditions that are too wet or too dry will make it impossible to effectively and safely deliver a burn program," the spokesman said.

"Last autumn, the conditions across the ACT were too dry due to an extended fire season. Implementation of the burn program would have been dangerous and counterproductive.

"The ACT then received large falls of rain towards the end of March which then limited opportunities for prescribed burns as fuels never dried sufficiently. Fuel conditions are assessed throughout the year and checked at least weekly, and where an appropriate 'operational window' presents, we are prepared to move quickly to implement prescribed burns."

Overall, about 95.9 per cent of the total bushfire operations plan was carried out, the spokesman said.

That included slashing 4733 hectares of grass across 246 sites and grazing 6041 hectares across 73 sites. Both targets were completed 100 per cent.

The Opposition's criticism comes as residents of the far south coast town of Tathra return home, after bushfires destroyed 69 homes.

Prescribed burning levels do not appear to have been a factor in the widespread loss and damage, experts have said.

The government also addressed criticism over its prescribed burn at Namadgi, which got out of control on Sunday and burnt out nearly 200 hectares.

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The spokesman said the burning began on March 10, under favourable conditions.

When the weather deteriorated to "unseasonal, severe" on March 15, he said steps were taken to strengthen the containment lines and bring in extra support, including a 15,000-litre water carrier.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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