Castlemaine Pines fire causes concern

A PINE plantation near Castlemaine looms as a major fire hazard, with more measures for fire prevention needed, local environmentalists say.

The Moonlight Flat plantation – owned by Hancock Pine Plantations – was burnt by a small fire yesterday morning.

Emergency services were called to the fire at Colles Road about 6.30am and 14 fire trucks worked to contain the fire to within two hectares.

Environmental group Friends of the Box Ironbark Forest voiced concerns the fire was a sign of potential dangers and said there needs to be greater bushfire prevention measures in place.

Secretary Bernard Slattery said the group had opposed some of the plantation’s rezoning plans in the past and were increasingly concerned of the risk of a large fire through the region.

“There are hundreds of people who live in fairly close proximity to the plantation,” he said.

“It makes people nervous. They’re wondering what is the plan to prevent a disaster happening?”

Mr Slattery said Hancock Pine Plantations needed to take the threat of bushfires seriously after major fires were sparked from pine plantations in south-west Victoria in January. 

A large blaze at a pine plantation at Kentbruck burned through almost 3000 hectares of plantation and national park between Nelson and Portland.

Mr Slattery said the fires were cautionary warnings of “how fast fires can tear through a plantation”.

The small fire in Moonlight Flat yesterday has been inspected by CFA and police, and is believed to be suspiciously lit.

Senior Constable Karen Turner from Castlemaine Police said the criminal investigation unit were still investigating. “At this stage we’re not sure how it started,” she said. “We’re appealing to the public for information, so if anyone saw any activity or a car leaving the area around that time they should come forward.”

Hancock Pine Plantations Western Victoria region general manager Dean Turner said staff weren’t in operation at the time the fire began.

“We have our own forest industry brigade, they were called to the fire and they were out there all day inspecting,” he said.

Mr Turner said the industry’s brigade carried out fire prevention work such as slashing of fire breaks every summer.

According to the Mount Alexander Shire Municipal Fire Management Plan, the pine plantation has been classified as “high” fuel hazard level.

Mr Slattery said greater attention needed to be paid to that high fire risk and he was hopeful no further fires were sparked in the plantation over the fire season.

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