Defence force flew away from ‘accidental’ fire in the ACT

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An image that the Australian Defence Department released under duress off a helicopter that caused the Orroral Valley fire accidentally last year. Photo: Department Of Defence

THE Australian Defence Department have been forced to release images of a spreading blaze it caused through ACT bushland soon after the Black Summer fires last year.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the ABC has revealed pictures and videos of a fire that engulfed Orroral Valley on January 27.

Defence force personnel onboard a helicopter accidentally set off the bushfire before flying away from the scene to Canberra Airport.

The FOI request unveiled the defence force did not report its location to authorities until 45 minutes after the fire took hold of the area, 50 kilomteres south of Canberra’s suburbs.

Dry grass was suspected to have been ignited from the heat of the aircraft’s landing light.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr was reluctant to offer an opinion at a press conference on Thursday (January 21).

He fired back at reporters that it had “absolutely nothing to do with ACT government”.

“I’m not interested in a witch hunt or the blame game here – that’s not going to undo the fire,” Mr Barr said.

From the fireground of the Orroral Valley. Photo: ESA

“Nothing can be done now of what happened from a year ago.

“The only value in all of this aside from a bit of media interest (and) potentially a witch hunt against a couple of defence force personnel is whether there are any lessons that can be learned around the operation of that sort of equipment in a bushfire scenario.

“It’s not the usual business of the defence department to be flying helicopters around and undertaking bushfire monitoring activity, but last year was extraordinary.”

Mr Barr said dealing with the matter hours after the incident became public following a lack of accountability from the defence department was “not an urgent matter”.

ACT Emergency Services Agency chief commissioner Georgeina Whelan has stated she was not fully aware of the circumstances behind the fire at the time.

The lack of transparency from the defence department only became fully known after the FOI request made the public aware of the delay between the “accidental” fire and the delay in calling in the incident.

“It was regrettable the incident occurred,” Mr Barr said.

“It was regrettable they didn’t call it in earlier.

“But what are we seeking to achieve in a witch hunt? Absolutely nothing.”

No ACT government staff were involved or on board at the time of the incident.

 

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