It was a long and at times emotional day for Will Carmody, the Fire and Safety Officer in charge at the time of the 2015 Esperance Bushfire. He sat in the chair at the Esperance Court House and answered questions for the inquest for over five hours.
Mr Carmody began his testimony being incredibly complimentary of the relationship between local volunteer firefighters, DPAW and DFES saying, ‘we work as a team, doesn’t matter who was wearing the chiefs hat we just get onto it.’
In the initial stages of the fire on November 15 and 16, the court room heard Mr. Carmody had required more equipment including heavy machinery, but was informed that because of a number of fires around WA at the time, those resources would not be available.
Mr. Carmody then relayed the difficulties containing the original fire around the Lake Mends and Pyramid Lake area. Two bulldozers and chain equipment set to arrive first thing on Monday morning did not arrive until the afternoon, vehicles became bogged tracking to the fire and other machinery breakdowns hindered progress
Communications was also a problem. Mr. Carmody described two way radios as crackly, and the area was ‘very poor for communications, because we are kind of outback’.
Catch up with Day One proceedings from the Coronial Inquiry at the following audio from the Sean for Breakfast Show.
Once the fire broke containment lines and ran rampant through farmland, Mr. Carmody described it as ‘like a blow torch, no other way to describe it, it escalated so quickly.’ From there the fire moved quickly, at least 15 km/hr towards Scadden in a south-east direction with flames climbing as high as 40 m in height.
Concerning aspects of the testimony appeared concerning a lack of ground support for volunteer fire fighters from DFES. Mr Carmody said after a day fighting the fire on that Tuesday, the first visit he received from a DFES was at 9pm… he told the court ‘I imagined there would be a team come down and support, not us just left as a team of locals,’ he then said that ‘support had been promised, but crews were left to hang out to dry.’
To finish Mr. Carmody said, ‘these were catastrophic conditions. Even if we had back burned, used fire bombers at the time, we may have been able to reduce the fire but I don’t know if we’d be able to put it out.’