Residents furious that a planned burn near Lancefield was allowed to escape containment lines and develop into a 2700-hectare blaze have called for ‘‘heads to roll’’ at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).
The state government has commissioned a full investigation into the September 30 burn in the Cobaw Ranges, which jumped lines on grand final day and again last Tuesday.
However, many people fear that while the probe will be critical of prescribed burning practices, nobody will truly be held to account.
Feeneys Lane resident Chris Jolly said somebody had to take responsibility for the decision to burn.
‘‘It’s going to depend on the attitude of the people doing the investigation,’’ he said.
‘‘It may be that the planned burn was appropriate, but it may be that it wasn’t patrolled properly.
‘‘If it was me and somebody said in four days’ time you’re going to get 30-degree days and strong winds, I would say don’t light it.
‘‘It’s just so stupid.’’
Hundreds of houses from the edge of Lancefield through to Benloch, Pastoria East, Pastoria, Nulla Vale, Baynton and Emu Flat have been threatened by the blaze.
At least four houses have been burnt to the ground and many thousands of litres of already scarce water drained from dams.
As the fire raged, community meetings held in Lancefield heard from countless residents – some yelling, others in tears and all angry that the community was in the path of a blaze that should never have happened.
‘‘If I had lit that fire, I’d go to jail, but you will all get away with it,’’ one man shouted to DELWP chief fire officer Allan Goodwin.
The department has copped extreme criticism after it was revealed that firefighters meant to be on standby for the planned burn may have been deployed elsewhere.
Landholders in the area have also claimed that trucks left near the site along Lancefield-Cobaw Crozier Track were not staffed on the grand final public holiday.
Mr Goodwin said extensive work went into planning the burn and denied the fire had been unattended at any stage.
While some people have criticised the appointment of Western Australian fire expert Murray Carter to the investigation team, Macedon MP Mary-Anne Thomas said it was only right that someone independent was brought in.
‘‘It’s unacceptable that locals have been put in this position,’’ she said.
Ms Thomas also welcomed the appointment of Lancefield Neighbourhood House co-ordinator Vivien Philpotts, who herself urged people to make their voices heard.
‘Right to be angry’
Premier Daniel Andrews and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, who both visited the town on Thursday, said people had every right to be angry.
Mr Guy said residents needed to have confidence that problems wouldn’t be swept away.
‘‘If it’s just going to be a discussion where the government gets a report that it wants to hear, it’s not going to solve anything,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s time for the department to review its practices. All options [including mechanical removal of fire fuel] need to be on the table.’’
Residents have also called for people to again be allowed to pick up fallen trees and logs from roadsides in forest areas, reducing fire fuel.
Information about compensation, water replacement, livestock and material needs is available at a recovery centre set up at Lancefield Mechanics Institute. The centre will open from 10am daily until Monday.