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Rural Fire Service points finger at army expl -

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TONY EASTLEY: The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) says it was an army live firing exercise which started one of the state's largest fires.

The RFS says the fire which threatened the city of Lithgow was the result of live ordnance exercises on the Marrangaroo Army Range.

The Department of Defence has previously confirmed explosives training was taking place on the same day and near to where the fire started, but it's refused to confirm the RFS findings and says it's conducting its own investigation.

Will Ockenden reports.

WILL OCKENDEN: The Mayor of the Blue Mountains Mark Greenhill is angry and wants answers.

MARK GREENHILL: I would have hoped on a day like that, which was a dry day, hot day with the winds, that the Australian military would have known that it wasn't a good time to be igniting.

WILL OCKENDEN: The State Mine Fire, as it's known, has threatened the city of Lithgow and other towns nearby for the last week. It's burnt through about 47,000 hectares of land and destroyed three houses and a handful of sheds.

The Mayor of Lithgow Maree Statham says it could have been much worse.

MAREE STATHAM: We thought Lithgow would have not fared as well as what it has. We're very blessed that we didn't lose more homes. It's certainly something that should never have happened, I believe.

WILL OCKENDEN: She says she wants to see more information and is not yet blaming Defence.

MAREE STATHAM: I guess the bottom line is that the public are wondering where the fire did start and eventually there will have to be some inquiry into this to determine as to where this fire did start.

WILL OCKENDEN: The NSW Rural Fire Service is more sure of when, where and how the fire started.

Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says fire investigators have determined the fire was started due to explosives training on the Marrangaroo Army Range.

SHANE FITZSIMMONS: The fire investigation, as is routinely the case with New South Wales Police and I understand the cooperation of the military, we determined that the fire cause and origin that started last Wednesday was indeed started on a live firing range as a result of the detonation of some ordinance.

WILL OCKENDEN: He was then asked if it the army was acting responsibly by carrying out explosives training the day before a total fire ban.

SHANE FITZSIMMONS: It's one of those routine arrangements that occurs on a live firing range. I'm not going to speculate on what was right or what was wrong. I'm simply focussed on where did that fire start and how did it start.

We do it routinely. We make announcements. I don't care whether it was someone lighting them, powerlines or in this case an ordinance that was exploded. We made a commitment to investigate, determine and advise once we knew.

It was from very public comments early on that they were open and said we may have started this and we'll work with the authorities. That's what they're doing. I don't think anyone's shying away from how this fire started. What we did do was an investigation to confirm the speculation that was around early on on last Wednesday

WILL OCKENDEN: The New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell says he hopes that people remember the work the military has done to help combat the fires.

BARRY O'FARRELL: I also want to ensure that this doesn't detract from the efforts that Defence have made over the past week in assisting the State's Emergency Service battle these fires. I'm sure that Defence, the Federal Government, will make some statements around that.

WILL OCKENDEN: The Department of Defence is still refusing to answer questions about the incident. On Saturday, Defence admitted that explosive ordnance training took place on the day the fires started.

A Defence spokesperson says an investigation is underway. As to when it will be released, the spokesperson told AM she doesn't know and couldn't say how long it will take.

TONY EASTLEY: Will Ockenden reporting.