Assurance of breaches of FFMVic planned burn control lines

Transfer of assurance function to the Office of Bushfire Risk Management

In October 2015, the Lancefield–Cobar Croziers Track planned burn led by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) breached the control line and led to a bushfire that threatened private property and the Lancefield and surrounding community. In December 2015, the Victorian Government requested the Inspector-General Emergency Management (IGEM) to investigate and report on any breaches of the control line by a DELWP planned burn.

IGEM began the assurance function in January 2016 working with DELWP (now the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action) to establish a prompt, efficient, sustainable and accountable process for managing the investigation of planned burns that breach the control line.

In June 2022, this role was formally transferred to the Office of Bushfire Risk Management (OBRM), and reporting on breaches of control lines is now part of the annual bushfire risk management report.

As part of this transfer, OBRM shadowed IGEM through its assurance process on the single breach of the planned burn control line that Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) reported to IGEM in 2021–22.

In performing this role, OBRM will ensure its assurance activities uphold the principles of the IGEM Assurance Framework for Emergency Management.

2021–22 breaches of the control line

In 2021–22, FFMVic reported one planned burn that breached the control line. This breach was in western Victoria and resulted in an additional 81.5 hectares of public land being burnt, including an area of south-eastern red-tailed black cockatoo feeding habitat. FFMVic crews contained the breach that night without private assets being impacted.

In accordance with its ‘Standard Operating Procedure 3.5.6 – Classification, reporting and investigation of breaches of control lines by planned burns’, FFMVic classified the breach of the control line as a ‘breach’.

FFMVic conducted a planned burn breach analysis and provided it to IGEM and OBRM for review. A request was made to FFMVic to provide additional detail as an ‘Addendum’ on the events that occurred during the planning and conduct of the burn.

As part of the review, IGEM and OBRM identified the following risk factors that are considered to have contributed to the breach of the control line:

  • No planning was undertaken for potentially requiring a second day of ignition, with the second day of operation only being planned for patrol. As part of an after-action review, FFMVic identified further planning – including a new phase two and three risk assessment – may have identified higher risk factors, potentially requiring further contingency planning to be put in place.
  • The weather forecast obtained for ignition on day one and patrolling on day two indicated that the Keetch-Byram Drought Index prescription parameter was outside standard prescriptions. Given the decision to continue ignition on day two, obtaining a spot weather forecast for day two would have been appropriate as per the relevant work instruction. This may have identified additional risks and triggered further contingency planning or a decision not to proceed with further ignition.
  • While resources were efficiently reallocated to contain the breach, day two of ignition lacked physical resources that may have helped in containing the breach earlier. To support suppression of the breach, local fixed-wing firebombing aircrafts were called. FFMVic identified in the after-action review that retardant-mixing capability was not available at the local airbase due to a ‘mixing crew’ not being rostered because of the low fire risk on the day. So when the aircraft were requested, the closest airbase couldn’t be activated, and aircraft had to reload from a more distant airbase.
  • The lack of a dedicated second bulldozer operator resulted in the control of the operation being transferred from one Planned Burn Operations Officer to another during the response to enable the initial officer to operate the bulldozer. While there is no evidence that this change in control affected the response, having the appropriate resourcing to operate the equipment available may avoid disruptions and response delays in future.
  • The approved phases one, two and three of the risk assessment provided by FFMVic refer to a single day of ignition. FFMVic have acknowledged that the risk assessment should have been returned to the regional Deputy Chief Fire Officer for approval, as the burn was outside of prescription, and that the fuel management system should have been updated to reflect the second day of ignition.

The risk profile assessment classified the breach as low risk.

FFMVic was proactive in circulating initial leanings to the district burn team the day following the breach, and complied with procedures by conducting an after-action review shortly after the breach. The after-action review and planned burn breach analysis identified the source of issues, opportunities for continuous improvement, and options for taking steps toward implementing more effective processes.

IGEM made no recommendations in response to the breach.