Landholders plan legal action against NPWS over bushfires
LANDHOLDERS affected by a catastrophic bushfire in the Guy Fawkes National Park are reportedly planning legal action against the National Parks and Wildlife Service claiming the department could have done more to manage the fire risk.
Six families are said to have joined the legal action, to be filed by Sydney-based law firm Jackson and Associates, which not only seeks to recover monetary damages to help the families rebuild, but "also to encourage effective, practical changes to avoid similar disasters in the future."
"My clients have lost stock, fencing and many outbuildings," Jackson and Associates principal Peter Jackson said.
"The cost of replacing the fencing alone is between $400,000 to $1-million
"So far we have seen very little help offered by the government.
"We hope to recover the losses as well as negotiate changes that will lessen the impact of future fires.
The first of the catastrophic bushfires to burn across Australia, the fires in the Guy Fawkes National Park started on August 30, 2019 near Armidale.
"Within a week, the fire burnt thousands of hectares to the north and spread all the way to the coast near Coffs Harbour," Mr Jackson said.
The Bees Nest Fire, which burned on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range impacting on communities near Ebor and Dorrigo raged out of control across a 1,000km front destroying an estimated million hectares of bushland and property near communities like Bostobrick, Dundurrabin and Tyringham.
More than 90 firefighters from the NSW Rural Fire Service, National Parks and Wildlife Service and Fire and Rescue NSW were active on the fireground during the peak of the emergency in August.
"The lives of thousands of people have been affected by the fire," Mr Jackson said.
Acting on behalf of the six families, and companies impacted by the blaze, the legal firm is calling for other parties adversely affected by the disaster to join the legal action.
The landowners firmly believe it could have been prevented with better management of combustible fuel on the ground in the national park, Mr Jackson will claim.
In the past arrangements were permitted for cattle to graze in the national parks at certain times of the year and then for restricted periods under a lease system, he said.
Landowners said these arrangement reduced fuel load, in turn reducing the fire risk.
They claim there were no severe bushfires during this time.
Additionally, the landowners say they also developed a system of regular burn-offs of ground fuel done at times of low risk, which ultimately reduced the serious fire risk.
Without those time-honoured systems in place, the landowners will in court claim the forest was 'ripe for a catastrophic burn.'
"The national parks are not managed in a way to avoid bush fires," Mr Jackson said.
"My clients want to talk to national parks about a different management style that will reduce the risk of such a disastrous fire occurring again.
Additionally, the landowners advocate the spread of the fire could have been stopped in a more timely fashion.
"With the benefit of years of fire-fighting experience, the landowners believe that more careful monitoring techniques may have stopped it before it reached a firestorm ' tipping point.
"It is clear that if the Nationals Parks had acted to monitor the fire more carefully at the early stages, it's spread and the terrible damage would have been prevented.
Mr Jackson said he and fellow solicitor Costin Stan have visited affected areas and spoken to an 'expert' who will examine evidence and assist in the negotiations for change.
"The landowners and the solicitors welcome the announcement by the Australian Government of an inquiry or Royal Commission into the national disaster," he said.
"We look forward to the opportunity to present to the government the changes to the management of the nationals parks that we believe will see the parks available for the protection of Australia's flora and fauna and the enjoyment of local and international visitors and most importantly, will dramatically reduce the risk of future futures."