Graziers hit by the Bees Nest blaze in the Guy Fawkes National Park last August, which eventually burnt all the way to Coffs Harbour, want compensation and significant changes to be made to land clearing policies.
Peter Jackson, the lawyer representing the farmers, said compensation was “only the start” of what they’re seeking.
“Fencing alone in the group I represent ranges between $400,000 and a million dollars,” he told news.com.au. “But more importantly they want change in how national parks are managed, to ensure fires like this don’t occur again. They want more communication between local land holders and the national parks.
“One of the things they have raised with me consistently is that in the past grazing is permitted to have their cattle on national parkland. My clients recognise the value of the national parks and biodiveirsty.”
He said farmers believed the fire could have been stopped in three instances.
Firstly, farmers want to win back the right to graze cattle and conduct burn-offs themselves through the parks.
Secondly, he said firefighting crews didn’t station a truck to watch the blaze overnight after putting it out.
“My clients were told the fire had been extinguished. In the late afternoon the National Park firefighters simply went home. During the night they told clients a log had rolled down the hill, and the fire had started up again,” Mr Jackson said.
“All of my clients who are experienced firefighters told me what you’d do is leave one unit there – that’s one truck and two men – who would keep an eye on it throughout the night. If that happened, the log rolling down the hill would have been extinguished. That wasn’t done, so the fire just kept moving along.”
Farmers also claimed Parks staff did not listen to their advice while fighting the blaze, and that better local knowledge could have helped contain it.
Beef farmer Tony Brazier said the August blaze was “a disaster waiting to happen”.
“I could see that the trouble was building for a number of years, it was just too dangerous and so this was always going to happen,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Brazier said that since cattle had been prohibited from grazing in national parks, the threat had increased significantly, which is what eventually led to the firestorm.
He said his business would take years to recover after losing several kilometres of fencing.
“We have to have more say in the future management of the park, we need manageable fire breaks and there needs to be more talk with local landholders,” he said.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, which has oversight of National Parks, declined to comment.