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ABC quiet on delay to Marysville fire warning -

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ABC quiet on delay to Marysville fire warning

The World Today - Monday, 27 April , 2009 12:34:00

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

PETER CAVE: Did we the ABC do our job as the designated emergency services broadcaster as fires
bore down on the town of Marysville in Victoria on Black Saturday earlier this year.

Tonight on ABC Television, Four Corners will report that a fire spotter warned authorities in
Marysville at 4:30pm that the fire was coming their way, but it was an hour later when the first
threat message was broadcast by the emergency broadcaster, ABC Radio.

The ABC won't talk about what happened and says it will only speak to the Royal Commission.

Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: The fire which swept through Marysville north east of Melbourne on Black Saturday
began 25 kilometres away at a saw mill at three o'clock in the afternoon.

A firefighter arrived at the scene 15 minutes later. By 4:30 in the afternoon, Marysville
firefighter Chris Gleeson arrived at Narbethong, eight kilometres away, where he saw burning embers
falling to the ground.

CHRIS GLEESON: That's when I noticed that there was gumnuts falling everywhere in the mill, tiny
gumnuts, and sheets of bark. And I thought, oh, this does not bode well, you know.

And I jumped in me car again and headed back to Marysville to tell them what was coming at 'em.

When I got to Marysville, and you know, I said to the boys at the station, I said, "We're going to
come under severe ember attack here at any moment. We better start planning what we're going to
do."

ALISON CALDWELL: At around the same time, a Department of Sustainability and Environment fire
spotter on Mount Gordon, contacted authorities in Marysville telling them the fire was heading
towards them.

But it wasn't until 20 to six that the emergency broadcaster, ABC Local Radio, broadcast its first
DSE-issued threat message for Marysville.

(Excerpt from DSE threat message)

"We're now extending that threat message to include the communities of Marysville and Buxton, which
we also expect to come under direct attack from this fire."

ALISON CALDWELL: Madeleine Love lives in Marysville. She says by the time they heard the first
warning on the ABC, they'd already found out that their house had been destroyed.

MADELEINE LOVE: Well, my husband was in touch with the fire communication at eight o'clock that
night, but also earlier in the day through the websites.

But what we learnt at eight o'clock that night was that our house had burnt down, and shortly after
that, I heard on the radio - ABC Radio - that Marysville might come under threat.

And, this is - something went wrong (laughs).

ALISON CALDWELL: Would you like to know what happened? Would you like to know what was going on, in
terms of the flow of information?

MADELEINE LOVE: I would like to know. Given that we knew - or something - on such a terrible day,
we could see the smoke plumes going down to, towards Marysville, slightly to the west. But you
know, fires can go anywhere, really.

That we knew the Kinglake experience, that the DSE report had, were clearly up on the screen very
early on. I would like to know why that early warning wasn't put out through the ABC.

It took a long time before the fire was registered as being real.

ALISON CALDWELL: A local community radio station in Marysville, UGFM, broadcast unofficial reports,
unconfirmed reports, that the fire was approaching Marysville. But it wasn't until about 20 to six
that the ABC reported that there was a threat alert for Marysville.

The ABC, as I understand it, only broadcasts official warnings. Do you think maybe that policy
should change when there's an emergency?

MADELEINE LOVE: I understand the need for an official warning. I'd like to know why there wasn't an
official one earlier.

But on the other hand, when such a day was there, one would have wanted everyone to know pretty
soon that there was a fire in the vicinity, or could be in the vicinity, so at least people were
more alert to making decisions.

There is a problem though; that the ABC is not - what came out at the Royal Commission community
consultations - that the ABC is not well received as a broadcaster in that area.

So a lot of people don't actually get ABC Radio.

ALISON CALDWELL: The ABC won't comment. A short time ago a spokeswoman issued this statement:

ABC BUSHFIRE RESPONSE STATEMENT (voiceover): The Victorian Royal Commission is looking closely at
the timeline of events on Black Saturday and the adequacy of the warning systems.

The ABC has been asked to provide broadcasting material and written evidence and may make its own
statement to the inquiry. No further comment will be made at this time.

PETER CAVE: And that was a statement issued by the ABC and read by an actor, ending Alison
Caldwell's report. The Four Corners program can be seen at 8:30 tonight on ABC1.