ACT Coroner to investigate the time taken by the Australian Army to report the location of the Orroral Valley fire to rescue services

A coronary investigation of a bushfire that was accidentally triggered by a defensive jumper will focus on the 45 minutes that elapsed when the fire was triggered and when rescue services were informed of its location.

The fire started on January 27, 2020 in Namadgi National Park south of Canberra when the landing light from an Australian Army helicopter ignited the dry grass at the landing site.

The fire came amid the black summer surf and eventually destroyed homes across the border in New South Wales as well as 80 per cent of the national park, equivalent to a third of the ACT.

ACT Chief Coroner Lorraine Walker announced today that she would launch a coronal investigation into the fire, which she said was a “public matter”.

“It is in the public interest that all relevant questions regarding the cause and origin of the fire – and the actions taken to respond to it – be fully considered,” Walker said in a statement.

“It is appropriate in the circumstances that I hold a study of this significant brand.

In January, ABC revealed that 45 minutes had passed between the ignition of the fire and the defense, warning rescue services about the exact location of the fires.

ABC later also revealed that staff aboard an MRH-90 Taipan helicopter had snatched photographs of the fire as they left the area, leading to questions about whether the fire could have been controlled at the time authorities were informed of its location. former.

The crew was concerned about their safety in damaged aircraft

Pilots from the defense helicopter that started the Orroral Valley fire have been criticized for the delay in communicating details of the fire to rescue workers.(

Delivered: Ministry of Defense

)

Internal defense reports released under the Freedom of Information Act earlier this year revealed that the helicopter’s pilot only informed rescue services about the coordinates of the fire when they arrived back at Fairbairn airbase at Canberra Airport.

The reports stated that Taipan had laid down so the crew could “go ashore for a short break”.

Problems with smoke and visibility meant that the landing light was switched on, but “the heat from the aircraft’s landing light caused the dry grass that the aircraft came in contact to ignite”.

“Within 3-5 seconds of contact, a fire was ignited under the aircraft, which was blown by the rotor wash,” said defense documents.

Flames with heavy smoke scattered over hilly terrain.
Orroral Valley bushfire, seen from Williamsdale on the morning of February 1, 2020.(

ABC: Greg Nelson

)

The crew called twice in a PAN-PAN emergency due to the damage to the helicopter, but did not pass on location data about the fire until around 1 p.m. 14:15, 45 minutes after it had accidentally started the fire.

The lack of information created confusion and firefighters were sent to various parts of the park in a desperate attempt to locate and extinguish the fire.

ACT had been extremely aware of fire hazard for several months in the midst of severe heat and after months of dry conditions.

A response from the defense to questions from ABC at the time said the crew’s primary concern was for their own safety, but it was not explained why they flew a potentially compromised plane all the way to Canberra Airport – a distance of approx. 40 miles – instead of redirecting to a safe landing site in the Orroral Valley or the nearby ESA Fire Station outside Tharwa.

‘Why don’t they tell us the truth?’

Damage to the underside of defense hooks caused by fire, started accidentally with a landing light.
The fire damaged the underside of the defense helicopters.(

Delivered: Ministry of Defense

)

When ACT firefighters determined the location of the fire, the flames had been swept into the woods and turned into an inferno.

About an hour after ignition, at 2.32pm, Tennant Tower radio broadcast that the fire had almost “doubled in size and is now emitting a sponge-shaped cloud”.

It later crossed the border and destroyed homes in the New South Wales community in Bumbalong.

Kim Templeton, a resident of Bumbalong and deputy captain of the Collinton Rural Fire Brigade, has previously said he did not believe the defense and ACT ESA had been honest in their reports on the start and response to the fire.

“We just want to know the truth, defense and ACT ESA have not necessarily been honest with us.

“Everyone is trying to remove us and deny that something went wrong. Why don’t they just tell us the truth?”

The ACT government refused to hold an inquiry

Andrew Barr at the ACT Labor Conference
ACT chief Andrew Barr said earlier that he was not interested in a “witch hunt”.(

ABC News: Ian Cutmore

)

The ACT government has previously said it did not believe an investigation into the cause of the fire was needed.

In January, Prime Minister Andrew Barr said he believed the only benefit of reporting on the recently released images was providing feed to newspapers and filling in “dead air in January”.

“The only value in all this … is whether there are any lessons that can be learned about the operation of that kind of equipment in a bushfire scenario.

“Yes, it was unfortunate that it happened, it was unfortunate that they did not call it earlier – what are we looking to achieve in a witch hunt? Absolutely nothing.”

Last month, ACT Attorney Shane Rattenbury said he had decided not to ask corons to hold an investigation.

“After much deliberation, I do not intend to ask the ACT Chief Expert to conduct an investigation into the Orroral Valley fire, and I have explained the reasons in a detailed letter to the lawyers representing a group of Bumbalong residents,” he said.

“The cause and origin of the fire are well understood. It is my view that a coronial inquiry does not significantly promote this understanding and that there would be no further public benefit in a coronial inquiry further investigating these issues. “Several investigations have already been conducted into the fire.”

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