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Protection plans boosted ahead of fire season -

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ELEANOR HALL: Less than 24 hours after the Royal Commission handed down its interim report on this
year's bushfires, the Victorian government has delivered a startling report of its own.

The Premier John Brumby has just released the latest scientific data on the approaching fire season
and the forecast shows the conditions could be even more deadly than last summer.

The government has identified dozens of communities that are at special risk and it is promising
that they'll get extra assistance from fire agencies.

But fire experts are warning that the government is not willing to make enough changes to its fire
policy to protect the state.

In Melbourne, Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: The latest warnings about the coming fire season are grim news for Victorians.

JOHN BRUMBY: Thirteen years of record of record dry in our State providing basically tinderbox type
conditions will give us a set of circumstances in the forthcoming fire season which is potentially
more dangerous than that which we have just gone through.

EMILY BOURKE: Armed with graphs, maps and charts, and flanked by police and fire chiefs and
meteorologists, the Premier John Brumby explained the big dry is set to continue.

JOHN BRUMBY: The rule book has been thrown out, the science has changed. Climate change has changed
that. The extremes are more extreme and so all of the systems that we've got in place, all of the
models, the policies, the resources that we've got in place now have to be adequate to cater for a
bigger range of extremes, a bigger range of variables and a bigger range of risks than we've ever
seen previously in the State.

EMILY BOURKE: The Royal Commission's interim report pointed to extreme climatic events on Black
Saturday. The unique fire behaviour, its speed, and spotting was described by one commissioner as
feral.

The fires followed an exceptional heatwave and a prolonged drought. Fuel loads were high and the
landscape was predisposed to a catastrophic event.

And so the Premier today has announced a revamp of town protection plans for the coming fire season
to complement the existing state-wide and local council measures.

JOHN BRUMBY: The work that we've been doing over recent months has identified a number of areas in
this first tranche some 52 towns which for a variety of reasons are more at risk or more vulnerable
to fire should it occur in the next fire season.

These could be towns that are built in the middle of bushland. They could be towns that are on the
coast that have a huge holiday population and only one road in and one road out.

We'll identify those 52 towns where we are putting in place enhanced town protection measures for
this fire season above and beyond what would normally be the case.

EMILY BOURKE: But still in the firing line is the head of the Country Fire Authority Russell Rees
who's leadership on Black Saturday has been the subject of intense criticism.

The headline of this morning's Herald Sun newspaper screamed "nobody was in charge".

Today, Russell Rees is standing firm.

RUSSELL REES: As the Royal Commission indicates there is further evidence to be heard on that
matter. It hasn't made a finding and I think we need to realise that my commitment is to go
forward. I am not here to say to you that walking away is an option to me and I'm not going to do
it.

EMILY BOURKE: Nevertheless, the Chief Commissioner of Police Simon Overland has detailed his job in
reviewing emergency coordination.

SIMON OVERLAND: Be under no doubt that we will have very very clear lines of authority running from
the top right down to the local incident making sure that those lines are clear, unambiguous. We
will put in place arrangements for the next fire season.

We will actively oversight and review them through the fire season with a view to then looking at
the lessons that we learn out of the next fire season and then formalising those arrangements back
through the emergency response plan and also into the legislation.

EMILY BOURKE: But one fire management expert is doubtful the government and agencies can achieve
the kind of cultural change that's required.

KEVIN TOLHURST: I'm not hearing so far I suppose that the Government actually appreciates that. I
think basically 51 recommendations that can be ticked off one by one without necessarily seeing the
whole picture that the Commission has painted for us as a community.

EMILY BOURKE: Kevin Tolhurst is a fire ecologist based at Melbourne University.

KEVIN TOLHURST: I think the cultural change is that we need to be able to quickly turn from a
situation where we are trying to just suppress the fires and protect people from a community point
of view to actually providing people with enough information and resources to be able to protect
themselves.

So I think that the idea of community refuge areas, the idea of providing individual house
assessments as to how defendable the property is, providing people with detailed information of
where the fire is and what the potential for that fire might be.

All those sort of things are quite a cultural shift in the sense that we're giving the
responsibility and the power if you like to the individual landowners to either make the decision
to move out early or to stay and defend their property if there's a high likelihood of success
there.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Dr Kevin Tolhurst, a fire ecologist at Melbourne University. Emily Bourke with
that report.