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Federal Environment Minister orders inquiry into Kakadu bushfire

Federal Environment Minister orders inquiry into Kakadu bushfire
October 10, 2015

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has ordered an investigation into a week-long bushfire in Kakadu National Park that flared after a mining company lost control of a controlled burn.

The bushfire, which started on 1st October, destroyed more than 200 kilo metre² of bushland in the world heritage national park, and threatened a number of culturally and historically significant sites.

Traditional owners blamed the operators of the Ranger uranium mine, ERA, for lighting a fire too late in the top end’s dry season and losing control of it. They said it was the second year it had happened, and accused ERA of negligence.

The mine is surrounded by the national park and a change in wind after the burn had ended reignited embers and carried them across containment lines, ERA said on Wednesday.

On Friday a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Hunt, said Parks Australia had been instructed to conduct a “full and thorough investigation into the cause of the fire”.

The spokesperson told Guardian Australia “no permission was sought and no approval was received for the lighting of the fire by ERA.

“We will not hesitate to seek reimbursement for the costs of fire fighting if negligence or wrongdoing are in any way shown.”

ERA, majority owned by Rio Tinto, faces fines of up to $8.5 million if it is found to have breached the environment protection and biodiversity conservation act.

Also on Friday, the Northern Land Council joined other Aboriginal and environmental groups in saying the fire had raised further concerns about ERA’s ability to rehabilitate the Ranger site when it finished mining uranium in 2021.

North Land Council Chief Executive Joe Morrison stated “ERA must bear full responsibility for the destruction caused by its negligence in conducting poorly planned and untimely back-burning last week

“This is the second year in a row that ERA has created havoc in Kakadu with its damaging fire management practices. It is unacceptable. Last year traditional owners were promised new protocols and practices to prevent a recurrence. They have amounted to nothing.”

Morrison also called for the Federal Government to reinstate traditional fire management practises across the park, delivered by Indigenous people to reduce harmful late dry season bushfires and higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Morrison added “Kakadu’s 10-year average emissions are some 266,702 tonnes of CO2 every year, and the fires that produce them have crippling effects on local flora and fauna.”

ERA said they would cooperate fully with both the Parks Australia investigation and another being conducted by the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy.



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