Road closure review call

A REVIEW of road closures in bushfire affected areas has been called for, by Eastern Victoria MLC Philip Davis, with the Heyfield-Licola Rd finally open to all traffic following weeks of restricted access.

The road had been closed by fire activity and to allow assessment and treatment of hazardous trees after the fire had passed through the area.

Local farmer, veterinarian and cattle specialist Dr Jakob Malmo expressed concerns about delays in getting into fire affected zones to treat animals in January, saying like many farmers, he was left irate about the way the Melbourne media was granted entry to fire affected zones while he and other vets and agencies such as DPI, who wanted to aide the emergency effort by tending to animals were not permitted.

Dr Malmo said the pressure felt by farmers, in being away from their properties, was great. He said most just wanted to know whether their livestock was lost, injured or burnt so they could either help them or put them out of their misery.

Dr Malmo said he was turned away at road blocks on three separate occasions, and wasn’t able to access his property until late into the night, returning the next day because it was too dark to complete necessary tasks.

He believes veterinarians, and in some instances farmers, should be considered in line with emergency personal when it came to assessing the damage to their livestock and land once fires had passed and said he would lobby, through farming organisations, to get veterinarians access to sick and injured animals.

Addressing parliament on the Aberfeldy-Donnellys and Harrietville complex fires, Eastern Victoria MLC Philip Davis acknowledged the impact of the fires on the communities of Seaton, Licola and Dargo and called for Minister for Roads Terry Moulder to review the process of road closures in order to give locals more appropriate and prompt access to their properties following a fire event.

“A number of roads in the region remain closed which is causing difficulty in terms of community interaction and travel,” Mr Davis said.

“In practical terms the issue is about getting those roads reopened as soon as is reasonable and obviously safe, and I am not urging fire management agencies to take any action which is unsafe.

“Residents need to be able to return promptly to assist distressed and injured animals or secure stock where fences have been destroyed.

“In rural communities locals know the highways, byways and in particular the back ways.

“The risk of having roadblocks, with police on duty, is that locals will use another route.

“Using a minor road can put the motorist at significant risk if that road has not been subject to any attention or management immediately post fire.

“Changes are necessary, so that locals do not feel they have to find alternative ways of accessing their property and attending to their livestock in particular, but also ensuring that the agencies respond quickly to mitigating the safety risks of falling trees on those roads.”

Mr Davis said he had been contacted by tourism operators and residents who are concerned that delays in reopening roads would have also a significant and lasting impact on business and tourism.

Heyfield-Licola Rd users are advised to proceed with caution along the road, watching out for wildlife, firefighting vehicles and fallen rocks that may have been dislodged after rainfall.

Significant areas of National Park and State forest remain temporarily closed due to the bushfire risk, and a road and track network that has to be assessed for public safety.