Limestone Creek Road resident Rhys Stafford, who lives on his uncle Steve Stafford’s property, shows Cr Adam Belot the devastation caused by last November's Cobraball bushfires. Photo Darryn Nufer.
Limestone Creek Road resident Rhys Stafford, who lives on his uncle Steve Stafford’s property, shows Cr Adam Belot the devastation caused by last November's Cobraball bushfires. Photo Darryn Nufer.

What to do with bushfire ‘apocalyptic dead zones’?

BEFORE the Cobraball bushfires destroyed 70 acres of Steve Stafford's 74-acre property, he did not know exactly what vegetation he could legally clear to best protect his home.

It wasn't for a lack of trying to find out.

Erring on the side of caution in fear of clearing something he shouldn't, not fire mitigating almost cost him his Limestone Creek Road home in last November's disaster.

Now, two months on, his house is still standing (just) but most of the thick forestry that backs onto it is a charred mess.

And still, despite him owning the land and it resembling a dead zone, he does not know whether he can legally clear any of it.

Again, it has not been through a lack of trying to find out.

"Most of it (vegetation) became an issue after the cyclone (Marcia - 2015) because you couldn't get to it (for fallen trees and debris) and basically you weren't allowed to touch it," Mr Stafford said.

"Then when the fire came through, the intensity was 10 times worse.

"Now it (vegetation) is burnt it's actually quite dangerous - some of those big gum trees could fall any time.

"A lot of them are burnt out.

"Being allowed to fix that or do anything with it (burnt vegetation) without going through a million hoops is very, very hard - I've tried it and it's very hard to deal with."

When asked if he knew of anything he could clear, Mr Stafford said this.

"You see that's the problem.

"You can talk to someone from DNR (Department of Natural Resources), then you can talk to someone else from DNR and they'll all tell you something different," Mr Stafford said.

"They'll send you the paperwork which is quite generic."

FIRE DEVASTATION: An aerial view of how close Novemeber's Cobraball bushfire came to houses along Limestone Creek Rd.
FIRE DEVASTATION: An aerial view of how close Novemeber's Cobraball bushfire came to houses along Limestone Creek Rd.

Mr Stafford said vegetation zoning was very unclear.

"It's like they get a pen and colour it in and say 'nup that's too important, you can't do anything with it'.

"Well why is it important?

"That was my question.

"If for example they told me it was a very important area and I couldn't get rid of the gum trees, then could I at least manage around that?"

Reflecting on the Cobraball disaster, Mr Stafford said he thought he was going to lose his house and he very nearly did.

"If it wasn't for a mate of mine in the rural fireys and the choppers and planes dumping water on my house, I would not have had a house.

"I thought it was gone and I think everyone who lives along Limestone Creek Road thought that.

"That's why the level of stuff those guys from the fireys did, was just outstanding.

"I had a mate of mine who got dumped on by a chopper because he had his bobcat there clearing around my house to stop it from getting burnt."

A rural fire brigade vehicle en route to the Cobraball bushfires.
A rural fire brigade vehicle en route to the Cobraball bushfires.

On Thursday Livingstone Shire councillor Adam Belot visited the property after being contacted by Mr Stafford.

Earlier in the week Cr Belot "fired a shot" at Mayor Bill Ludwig over comments he made about bushfire mitigation in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area.

Cr Ludwig said he believed the Australian ­Defence Force had an ­obligation to do more for the shire's people given that ­several bushfires had ­previously started in the training area before going on to menace surrounding communities.

But Cr Belot said Livingstone should look after its own backyard first, to which the mayor responded by providing a lengthy list of things the council had done in terms of fire mitigation.

"I stand by my position toward fire mitigation measures and believe the council's priorities need to be focused on cleaning up our own backyards both private and public across the Livingstone Shire," Cr Belot said on Thursday.

"There is an urgent need to reassess how private and public land is categorised at a local and state government level.

"Green zones and areas of 'Locally Significant Vegetation' create a complex vegetation overlay, that some private landholders say are frustrating and confusing, as their attempts to reduce fuel loads are often tangled up in thick red tape and ­bureaucratic terminology."

Cr Belot said green zones along Limestone Creek Road had become "apocalyptic dead zones" as a result of the intense fire conditions that could have been significantly reduced had vegetation reduction measures been more straight forward.

"This devastating environmental outcome is distressing and any reasonable person would agree that change is needed," he said.

"The most challenging question is 'what change?'

"I believe this change starts firstly in our own backyards and while Mayor Ludwig is entitled to challenge the ADF to do more as reported, the changes need to be aided by sensible government planning, that allows for fuel reduction on both public and private land regardless of the coloured zone."

The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy was contacted for comment but did not respond prior to deadline.